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Socialization Post-COVID-19: Local associations and online groups to play crucial role

Though every age group is suffering due to the global lockdown caused by the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges before adolescents are unique. Their social space has shrunk drastically, besides, they have become highly vulnerable to cybercrimes. The nations will be required a new kind of policy interventions in the post-pandemic world to address the problems caused by socialization related issues. 

COE-EDPCOE-EDP | Updated: 16-05-2020 00:47 IST | Created: 16-05-2020 00:47 IST
Socialization Post-COVID-19: Local associations and online groups to play crucial role
Image Credit: Pixabay

Human has been a social animal since its origin or we can say socialization has made human a social animal. Since time immemorial, social interactions have been the building blocks of socialization in human life. However, the ensuing pandemic of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has put a sudden brake on this time tested process of socialization particularly for growing children who need regular inputs in their process of becoming a social individual.

The new generation was indeed fast moving towards the virtual world with the help of internet-enabled technological innovations but the complete lack of physical interaction was beyond imagination. They are the generation whose parents were not able to stop in homes or prevent from meeting their peer groups in schools, coaching classes, hobby classes, dance clubs, sports clubs, shopping malls, and parks, etc. This was over and above their activities on cyberspace or somehow complementary for their socialization. The most energetic generation has been made to sit idle at a time when they require maximum inputs from their peer groups for socialization.

However, they are not the lone sufferers. Initially, the lockdown was embraced as a gift by some for providing a longer period of stay with the family but now all are missing outings. This is because socialization is a continuing process, and the working place also plays a significant role in it. Besides, the senior citizens have their own share of sufferings due to self-imposed quarantines as they are the most vulnerable to the virus. The uncertainties about the period of lockdown, continuity of social distancing measures in the post-lockdown period, and economic uncertainty have further aggravated the problems. The lockdown is impacting social interaction and socialization in several ways but survivors and their families are facing the toughest challenges for adaptation.

Impact of social distancing

Though the real impact will depend on the duration of lockdown and intensity of disease outbreak in the region, deterioration in the confidence level of individuals is widespread on social dynamics across the globe. Today, we are witnessing an age where every person is looking at others with suspicion of being a potential virus carrier. This change in behavior has adversely affected the confidence of individuals across the age group which may lead to large scale discriminatory practices.

The handshakes were considered the most effective mode of greetings in the pre-pandemic period for formal as well as informal social interactions. Besides, hugging, skins-kiss, and enthusiastic high-fives were developed as a strong form of greetings to express intimacy. However, these things have become a matter of history in ensuing COVID-19 pandemic and were quickly replaced with Namaste, waving of hands, Wuhan shakes (leg shake), and the elbow bumps.

The high contagiousness nature of the virus has not merely changed the way of greetings but also completely prevented all of us from outings. Irrespective of the fast-paced life and pollution generated problems, the present generation of humans on this planet was leading the most comfortable life in history. However, due to the lockdown all forms of physical social interactions and cultural exchange facilitated by travel, tourism, meetings with new people, and exploring new places and communities, etc., all have been stopped. The physical social interaction of people throughout the world has largely confined to their family members, close relatives, and friends.

However, the pandemic has increased the importance of neighborhood and local associations, particularly in urban settings. Today, family, neighbors, Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), residential committees, village committees, village panchayats, tribal committees, and local bodies have become highly important for social interaction and social life. The anonymity in urban life is fast vanishing and now people are more concerned about the health and activities of their neighbors. These local associations are working as an extension of the government and local authorities. Though for a short duration, they have illustrated their capabilities in taking over local governance and replacing NGOs at the micro-level.

Age of Virtual Social Interactions

Life would have been worse without the cyberspace. Today, people are forming social groups, hobby groups, and hosting parties such as tea parties, coffee parties, birthday and marriages, etc., on internet-enabled social media and other AI (Artificial Intelligence) based technologies. Even virtual guests were created with special effects at a wedding in China. Besides, online gaming and other innovative modes of social interaction are also being explored in the cyber world.

People are fast adapting to celebrate religious festivities online such as Ramadan that was known for huge social gatherings in the pre-pandemic period. The most crowded temples in India are offering online darshan, offerings, and ceremony services.

COVID 19 pandemic has forced the whole world to shift online for their needs of social interaction. Those who were already using are giving more time while others are adapting fast to fulfill their human needs of social interaction and socialization in the virtual world with the help of live streaming, video conferencing, and virtual meeting apps. A study in the USA has revealed that about 42 percent of adults have socialized through the internet during lockdown out of which 46 percent were females. However, the elders living alone in the urban areas are facing increased degrees of loneliness and suffering from acute depression for two reasons, firstly they are made to follow more restrictions and secondly, their children can't even make casual visits to them.

Challenges to Children in Cyber World

The impact of lockdown is different for children of different age groups. Those under 5 years are the happiest lot as they have their parents at home for full time to take care that has increased their social timing while adolescents are the primary suffers in terms of socialization with an increased vulnerability to cybercrimes.

UNICEF has estimated that over 90 percent of children throughout the world are facing the impacts of lockdown caused by COVID 19. As the schools have gone online, children's screen time has increased to the dangerous levels. The report has identified six kinds of increased threats to the children in the cyber world – online sexual exploitation, cyberbullying, online-risk taking behavior, potentially harmful content, inappropriate collection, use and sharing of data; limited child safeguarding by schools. India's national capital city Delhi has recently witnessed a shocking case of sexting platform 'Bois Locker Room' wherein a minor girl impersonating as a boy used to send sexts to boys inciting them to rape school girls. As children of growing age need regular updates from their peer groups and surroundings for socialization, their dependency on the internet for every input has made them highly vulnerable to internet predators. The situation is worse in the countries that do not have adequate laws to control those activities of cybercriminals which are a punishable offense in the physical world. Psychologists are unanimous that long term lockdown and increased cyber activities are adversely impacting the socialization of children.

Social Bubble: Will small groups work?

If provided an opportunity to go to a virgin island, whom will you select? This hypothetical question seems to provide an answer to fulfill the needs of physical social interaction in the western world.

Presented in an unpublished research paper of seven researchers led by Per Block of Oxford University, the idea behind the social bubble is such small groups if become hotspots will infect a maximum of ten persons. The researchers have suggested people form small groups of a maximum of ten persons – social bubble – to fulfill their needs of physical social interaction with a strict norm of not doing this beyond the group. Thus if you are a member of a social bubble you can shake hands, exchange hugs and skin kisses but not allowed to be a member of another social bubble. However, due to the high contagiousness and long survival of COVID 19 outside the body, even such small groups will not be fully immune from COVID-19 and can also spread the virus in families and communities of social bubble members. Furthermore, there are high chances of social discrimination in the idea of the social bubble. There have been several such groups with varying degrees of intra-community and inter-community interaction in India such as a village, Pind (villages where all the inhabitants have a common ancestor), Jaati (caste), and Gotra, etc. They all cause an increase in social discrimination in a long time.

Social Life at Work Place

Primarily a place of economic activities, offices also play a major role in socialization through social interaction. The 'work from home' which was considered a more productive option during the pre-COVID-19 period was received with much enthusiasm in the initial months of the lockdown. However, recent studies are not unanimous on this issue. According to a study, about 60 companies reported an increase in individual employee productivity while the overall productivity of the company decreased by 90 percent while another study suggests that productivity decreases due to prolonged lockdown. The experts are now coming with innovative suggestions to increase productivity during work from home. After allowing to open the offices, South Korea had introduced strict guidelines of social distancing and sanitization which are likely to be followed by other economies as well.

Family Disharmony

Living in disturbed families has reportedly become a nightmare for women during COVID 19 pandemic in the western world. However, in the absence of credible data, it is not possible to compare the domestic violence of the pandemic age with the pre-pandemic period but experts suggest an increase in the domestic violence cases. A report of the North Caroline Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCCADV) between January 1 to April 20 suggests that 27 cases of domestic violence homicide were reported in North Carolina province of the USA in comparison to 16 cases in the same period last year. The problems multiply in disturbed families if any member gets infected with COVID 19.

However, this could not be generalized for the whole world because communities react differently against un-certainties particularly in religious communities where natural calamities and disease outbreaks are considered an act of God.

The Way Ahead

Air pollution had taught us not to take fresh air for granted, the COVID-19 pandemic is teaching the same lesson for socialization. Before the pandemic forced all of us to stay inside homes, such a situation was unimaginable in the 21st Century where individual freedom, liberty, and human rights were the order of the day.

The pandemic has come with a lot of challenges as well as opportunities. There is a huge scope of innovations in technology and policy formulation to address the challenges caused by the COVID 19 and the lockdown. The nations will be required to plan for policy interventions to address the social problems arising out of change in socialization patterns such as isolation, social alienation, child delinquency, domestic violence, gender equality, and issues related to the elderly.

Though COVID 19 has changed the whole world, schools are continuing with the pre-pandemic curriculum. The implementation of social distancing measures such as no handshake, no hugs, no high-fives, no skin kisses, etc., will require improved communication skills and a new set of non-verbal communication for formal as well as informal social interactions. The feelings communicated through various measures of touch will require strong linguistic and dramatic (non-verbal) expressions. Educational institutions should enhance their curriculum to make their students adapt to the post-pandemic world. Furthermore, they will also be required to protect their students from increased vulnerability to cybercrime and new approaches to counseling to deal with difficult situations such as juvenile delinquency and suicide behaviors.

As the whole world has shifted to the internet, the nations should come up with policy interventions to provide affordable internet facilities to their citizens. Besides, scientists should provide people with sustainable solutions to deal with prolonged screen time. The UN should come up with strong regulatory measures for internet service providers and social media companies to save the children of the world. This is because the giant MNCs (Multi-National Companies) have become stronger than several nation-states in this virtual world. The comprehensive cyber laws at the national and international level are also required to protect the privacy of individual and organizational data.

Governments should also strengthen voluntarily public associations at the local level such as RWAs, village committees, neighborhood committees, and community committees with a professional approach. They are of great importance at the time of pandemic and will continue to provide the dividends in developing resiliency against disease outbreaks and natural calamities in the future. These local committees will also go a long way in facilitating the socialization process for their members, particularly children. The policy interventions will also require to bring back the COVID-19 survivors and their families in mainstream society and integrate them with their respective communities.

Centre of Excellence on Emerging Development Perspectives (COE-EDP) is an initiative of VisionRI and aims to keep track of the transition trajectory of global development and works towards conceptualization, development, and mainstreaming of innovative developmental approaches, frameworks, and practices.

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