Covid has given us what we (thought we) wanted

Have you ever got exactly what you wanted, only to find that it wasn’t actually what you wanted? That’s a bit like how I’ve been feeling recently. It seems to me like covid has, in a funny kind of way, actually given us what we wanted. Only we found out we don’t actually want it after all.

Let me explain:

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Things which covid has given us

Social isolation

"Social" media cartoon

One of the trends that’s been happening over the last few years is people looking at their phones instead of talking to each other. It’s now common for two people to be sitting next to each other on their phones, rather than talking to each other. We now interact with each other far less than we used to, largely because of the smartphone.

In fact, it’s actually getting to be a problem – a study back in 2018 showed that young people feel lonelier than any other age group. More recently, back in September research suggested that those aged 18-30 were most likely to feel lonely. Why should this be the case? I think social media and smartphones have to play a part. In fact, we’ve known about this for some time, as I mentioned in my review of the Social Dilemma.

So I find it interesting that over the last few months, we’ve been forced to see each other over a screen rather than face-to-face. It’s ironic, isn’t it? The past few years we’ve spent interacting more and more online – and now we’ve been forced to interact online like never before. Earlier this week I was chatting to a university student, who was telling me all her courses are now online – she hasn’t actually met any of the other students on her course physically yet. Even in church, we have Zoom meetings. It’s got to the point where Zoom Fatigue is a real phenomenon!

Online shopping

An empty high street

People have been worrying about high street shops for a long time now. Over the last few years in my own town, quite a few shops have closed. A couple of years ago, Marks & Spencer closed down its store here. Back then there were 15 commercial retail properties for sale – I hate to think how many it is now. Several companies have announced during the lockdown they are closing – the latest one is Debenhams.

In that particular case, Debenhams has been in administration for over a year. The lockdown has probably finished off many companies which were struggling anyway.

By contrast, one company which has done very well out of the lockdown is Amazon – their shares reached a record high. Again, this is a trend which began well before the lockdown, but the lockdown has simply brought forward. I wonder if this will spell the end to the traditional high street.

A big government

One thing which I notice about my own generation (“millenials”), as well as younger people, is that everything is the government’s fault. Whatever the problem is in society, it’s because the government haven’t done enough. They’re not providing enough benefits, or health care, or counselling support, or community services… whatever the problem is, we blame the government.

We seem to look to the government to solve all our problems: climate change – needs the government to solve it. Inequality in society – need the government to solve it. And so on. I think it’s got to the point where the default position of anyone of a certain age is to see a problem in society and think that the government should do something about it.

Well, in covid we’ve certainly got a government who want to solve the problem. To the point that we have – by law – been restricted from seeing our family and friends, restricted as to where we can go and what we can do. I believe that the lockdown introduced the strictest measures ever put in place during peacetime.

But here’s the thing: this is exactly what we wanted. The government have got the message – they need to solve everything. So, covid becomes a problem they’re going to solve, even if lockdown causes more problems than it solves.

What can we learn?

I don’t think any of this is a coincidence. As a Christian, I believe that God lets things happen for a reason. I believe that these things have happened in order that good may come from it. I am hopeful that we may learn the lessons that we need to learn. Let me suggest three.

Lesson #1: Face-to-face contact is vitally important

Friends group hug

Sometimes you don’t appreciate something until it’s taken away from you. In this case, I don’t think I really appreciated the importance of face-to-face contact until it was taken away. I mean, if you asked me I would probably have said it was important. But I didn’t really know from experience how important it was.

Spending the last few months doing meetings via Zoom and church services via YouTube have convinced me that face-to-face cannot be replaced by technology. There is a place for technology – it has some advantages. For example, I know a few people who are housebound who have been able to join in with our services when they wouldn’t have been able to get to church. I think that’s brilliant. And technology is better than not seeing people at all.

But – you can’t really hug someone via Zoom. You can talk to someone, but it does still feel a bit like talking to a screen. It’s just not the same as a face-to-face conversation. And I think face-to-face interaction is especially important for children – I’ve noticed how our little Zoe (age 3) doesn’t really engage with the screen. Since she started at nursery, it’s like she’s a different girl! It’s been so good for her. Children need physical contact for their development.

So, the first lesson I want to learn in a post-covid world is, face-to-face, physical interaction is vitally important.

Lesson #2: Convenience is not the most important thing

Over the last few years I’ve been guilty of ordering something from Amazon just because it’s convenient. I’ve thought it was better than popping down to the shops. Well, it seems like a lot of other people have thought that, and look what’s happened.

I don’t know what the future of the high street will be. All I know is that I think physical shops are important, not just because it gets you out to see people (see Lesson #1!). It’s easy to live your life online because it’s convenient: to shop online, to chat online, etc.

But – at the same time – when we do that, we are losing something important. I want to resolve to become better at doing things in real, physical life – not online.

That doesn’t mean never shopping online, but I hope there will be a place in my life (and for all of us in society) to support local shops.

Lesson #3: Remember the government can’t do everything

If we’ve learned anything over these last few months, it’s that the government really do have limited power. They haven’t been able to “control the virus” – in fact, no government in history has ever tried to control a virus in quite this way. And, it seems to me, everything they’ve done seems to have made everything worse. The cure has been worse than the disease!

Whatever your perspective on the lockdowns, I think everyone is agreed that the government have not handled things well over the last few months. They haven’t seemed to be competent for just about anything related to the pandemic!

The important lesson here is to put a bit less faith in the government to sort out our problems. As I mentioned in a previous post, there is only one governer who is able to bear the weight of responsibility to fix everything. His name is Jesus. As it says in Isaiah 9:6, a passage which is often read at Christmas time:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.

I hope this is a lesson that we can re-learn as a society. At the end of the day, the government is not on Boris’ shoulders, or Matt Hancock, or Chris Whitty, or anyone else. They have been given a particular responsibility by God, but their power is limited.

The only one who can actually sort out the problems in our society is the one who can sort us out.

It is said that a newspaper sent out to various authors, asking them to answer the question “What is wrong with the world today?” G.K. Chesterton wrote a short reply: “Dear Sir, I am.” The greatest problems we have as a society are not problems with everyone else which can be solved by government, but problems with the human heart. The traditional world is sin. That’s a problem which can only be solved by Jesus – who can forgive us our sin, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

So the final and most important lesson I want to remember is, the government cannot solve our every problem – only Jesus can do that.

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