With Everything That’s Happened This Year…By Abraham Phillips, Allie Liu, Tristan John-Jangles, Vanessa Mugambi, Asma Omar, Tamara Turchetta
Strange times we are living in. There has been a lot of speculation about what life after Covid will look like. Would it be exactly like life as we knew it without Covid? Would there be lingering effects in how we behave and interact, in what we prefer, in what will succeed or fail or emerge in the marketplace, or in how we each choose to move through life?
We created a simple survey at a time right before the start of the vaccine rollout to try to answer these questions by getting some insight into Pre v. Post-Covid interest and comfort levels around some of the more fundamental and ubiquitous activities of everyday life: social gathering, dating, shopping, and travel. The 162 survey participants, though random and varied in terms of age and country of residence, were all more significantly represented through gender and length of lockdown.
So as they say, let’s get into it. “With everything that’s happened this year…” is possibly the most commonly heard pandemic modifier used to universally convey the negative impact of Covid-19 on whatever piece of everyday life is inserted immediately after. No matter where you live on planet Earth, Covid-19 restrictions during the past year entirely changed the landscape of social events. It normalized not only social isolation, but also public shame and criminal penalties for violating it. In this portion of our survey, we tried to get an idea of how comfortable people thought they would be post pandemic in smaller (50 or less) social gatherings with people they knew v. larger ones (more than 50) with people they didn’t know. We broke this down even further to look at whether their prospective comfort level changed if the gathering was held indoors or outdoors. It is important to note that we conducted our survey over one week in May 2021, when US restrictions had not yet been lifted, when Canada was still in lockdown, and when India was experiencing a dramatic and debilitating second wave.
While the results showing all groups’ apprehension around the prospect of attending larger indoor gatherings with strangers matched our general expectations, we were surprised that our survey data suggested a considerable percent of 15-18 year olds would be “much less comfortable” attending indoor social gatherings with 50+ people — especially in contrast to the “Florida Teen” spring break news stories covering the thousands of “insensitive delinquents” partying in Miami in a pandemic. Teen caution carried over to large outdoor gatherings as well, where 25% of respondents still answered “much less comfortable”, compared to 0 respondents for those 31 and over. Results were similar for small indoor events as for large outdoor events: “slightly less comfortable” remained the dominant response. However in this scenario, a small number of the 31 and over group were apparently a bit more uncomfortable, creeping back into the much less comfortable category.
Whether this is more a reflection of the difference in the types of outdoor 50+ outdoor gatherings envisioned by respondents in each age group (raucous jammed outdoor concerts vs. neighbourhood barbecues), or whether 15-18 year olds are just a bit more cautious and compliant, we can’t really say from our results. We can say that since the time of this survey, re-opening has become a reality, at least in the US, and the general anecdotal consensus would seem to indicate far less apprehension than results of this fairly recent survey had forecast. What seems to be clear is that people adapt. And what we seem to be witnessing is the effects of people emerging from “reconfiguring their lives around the constraints of Covid”…but free from peer and social pressure.”(This is) where we end up seeing a lot of habit change, and the formation of new habits…(as people) reconsider the life they had prior (to Covid restrictions).”
Social distancing, and no social gathering was definitely one of the ”constraints of Covid” for nearly everyone. This changed the social interaction landscape for not only group gatherings but also for dating– effectively eliminating the option for the type and degree of physical proximity traditionally associated with starting, maintaining, and growing intimate relationships. Given the pre-pandemic inundation of dating apps, advertisers’ propensities to use sex to sell products, and our historical and cultural predisposition to prioritize romantic attraction, it could seem that losing the opportunity for this type of intimacy would be pretty devastating.
Not so, according to our survey. Although there were some small notable observations regarding online v. in-person preference — i.e. that men were more interested in dating in general and in meeting a date in person than women, and that more older respondents “31-and-over” had less interest in meeting people in-person, while more younger respondents “15-to-18” had less interest in meeting people online than they did pre-Covid — our survey showed a clear majority of “no change” in dating interest across age, gender, and pretty much every length of lockdown. These results would seem to be corroborated by a recent study on loneliness conducted by UCLA professor of social psychology, Naomi Eisenberger, “The most intense experiences we have in our closest social relationships include feeling loved, connected and wanting to help other people.” Using data collected through 2020 around the nature of meaningful close social relationships and whether they can in fact be established in the course of a pandemic, she determines that feeling safe — as in connected and not rejected or left out, is a big part of what defines a meaningful close social relationship– and that they can indeed be created, even in isolation during a pandemic. She also offers insights into how they are established and maintained. “We’ve seen that having social support — whether through romantic relationships, parent-child relationships or friendships — can make the world seem safer….” So quite possibly we just missed the mark by defining intimacy much too narrowly?
Small personal interactions do matter and have been missed. From awkward elevator rides, to late night gas station chats: people across the globe lost out on a lot of these small, yet crucial daily interactions that physically produce serotonin and emotionally just kept you going. Regardless of how directly or indirectly the virus itself impacted individuals or their loved ones, people everywhere were “facing isolation, boredom, and the need for small joy.” This would seem to be the kind of intimate meaningful connection that people seek — the small in-person moments of seeing grandparents, and new babies, and sisters, and cousins, and best friends. But apparently there can be small online moments as well: according to the same UCLA study mentioned above, and similarly reflected in the status quo results of our own small survey, “Whether you’re living alone or with other people doesn’t really affect (your feelings of feeling safe and connected). What does seem to have an effect is subjective isolation, or how lonely you feel.. It turns out that your objective situation doesn’t matter as much as what you do with it.”
Successful shopping, on the other hand, is much less subjective and more dependent on your objective situation. In-person shopping was one of the many commercial casualties of Covid-19; Online shopping enjoyed a new nearly universal prominence as not merely a convenient option or safer alternative, but as THE only access to certain goods. In our survey we set out to learn whether peoples’ preferences for types of shopping changed from pre-Covid times to the time of our survey (April 2021)
The results were probably not that shocking: a large portion of respondents across all periods of lockdown responded “no change” for both preference for in-person and online shopping. There were, however, a few interesting differences of note. First, It was only respondents who had experienced lockdown for 1-3 months who said they had more interest rather than less interest in in-person shopping in anticipation for post pandemic life. Every other group across all levels of lockdown had less interest in the prospect of post pandemic in-person shopping. As for preference for online shopping, our results showed that more interest in online shopping surpassed no change only for those in lockdown for 1-3 months or over a year. For those in lockdown for that ‘mid-range’ of 4-6 months or 7-12 months, no change was the most recorded response.
Something that might be contributing to the high incidence of “no change” is that there might be other factors influencing how people shop and what they choose to shop for beyond simply that they can’t go outside right now. As Dhani Mau writes on Yahoo Life, “shoppers are also now being influenced by a number of factors not related to the shelter-in-place lifestyle — like whether a brand’s founder had been exposed for racist behavior, or how a designer responded to police brutality, or if a deal is too good to pass up.” The additional time people have or had, and have on their own, during quarantine is allowing them to make more thoughtful decisions– decisions that come from their own preferences and priorities as opposed to ones that are driven by external social, professional, or peer pressures. This more considered and personal decision-making approach seemed to carry-over into traveling preferences as well.
From the beginning of the pandemic, Covid-19 profoundly affected travel; as airports closed and governments mandated stay-at-home lockdowns, traveling—aside from perhaps walking to a local store—became nearly impossible. In our survey, we sought to analyze whether the pandemic altered people’s interest and comfort level surrounding different types of travel. We looked at traveling for pleasure, air travel, local land travel, long-distance travel for pleasure, and long-distance travel for work; we also asked how the requirement of a vaccine passport would impact their interest in international air travel.
We found several intriguing outcomes in the data. First, when looking at gender groups, females appeared to be less interested on average than males in traveling for pleasure, air travel, and long-distance travel for work, a result from our survey that saw correspondence with a survey taken by Forbes where they concluded: “women felt less confident throughout the travel journey than men”. Another interesting result we found was that people had mostly no change in their interest for land travel, regardless of gender and age group. Many people answered that their interest had increased, and very few said their interest in land travel “slightly” decreased. There were similar outcomes in regards to the responses around whether requiring a vaccine passport would change people’s desire to travel. “No change” led the way as the most popular response, with “increase interest” following behind as a close second. Very few people answered that the requirement of a vaccine passport would hinder their interest. Although the interest in travel seemed unchanged, how people are travelling and what they are focussing on has definitely been impacted by both Covid-19 and by the experience of lockdown. According to Euronews travel, there seems to be a variety of shifts in the choices people make around travel: whether closer to home or closer to nature, more luxuriously or more sustainably, more with family or with more friends. Having more time at home to think about where we want to be when we don’t have to be at home seems to have made us all clearer about travel. It’s less that there is any trend toward one particular type of travel, and more that the trend is a consistent post Covid perspective shift towards more consciously chosen, priority aligned, planned travel.
IN THE END:
While we learned a lot from devising survey questions and identifying trends from distilling the results –we recognize that all this information is a lot to process, and begs the question: what can we do with what we’ve learned? Our particular approach to recording peoples’ post Covid predictions about their relative interest and comfort level doing just a few essential activities of day to day life, may give some small insights on interest and comfort level, but it left big gaps around the ways people’s choices changed and the reasons behind them.
As people in countries with widespread vaccine rollout return relatively quickly and smoothly to what seems surprisingly normal, it can possibly appear that we’re all pretty resilient and the effects of Covid are not long-lasting at all. Over time it will become clearer how COVID-19 affects how we communicate with each other, live our lives, and the level of caution we exercise in performing tasks we may have done casually and fearlessly prior to the pandemic. According to an article by Anderson which focuses on the new normal in 2025 post-pandemic, experts predict that by the year 2025, as a global community we can expect to see increased reliance on digital tools due to our desire for convenience and safety as well as a world where the broad adoption of “remote processes” (working from home, virtual schooling, e-commerce etc.) continues to grow. But just as the predictive answers respondents gave to this survey just over a month ago may be quite different from their answers today, predictions can be difficult and are just predictions. What we can say for sure is that ”with everything that’s happened this year”, this uninvited solitary time out of our daily routine that forced us all to consider and reconsider what we really want or need, how and why we do things, and who we want to do them with, was definitely not all bad.
Anderson, J., Rainie, L., & Vogels, E. A. (2021, April 05). Experts Say the ‘New Normal’ in 2025 Will Be Far More Tech-Driven, Presenting More Big Challenges. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/02/18/experts-say-the-new-normal-in-2025-will-be-far-more-tech-driven-presenting-more-big-challenges/
Eisenberger, N., ’97, M.A. ’00, Ph.D. ’05,. (2021, June 11). Is One Really the Loneliest Number? (B. Wright, Ed.). Retrieved from https://newsroom.ucla.edu/magazine/naomi-eisenberger-loneliness-pandemic-relationships
Kholkar, S. (2021, April 26). Post-Pandemic travel trends: Armed with vaccine certificates, tourists wait to undertake revenge travel. Retrieved from https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/travel-tourism/post-pandemic-travel-trends-armed-with-vaccine-certificates-tourists-wait-to-undertake-revenge-travel/2240353/
Mau, D. (2021, June 9). As People Move Out of Big Cities, Fashion Retail Follows. Retrieved from https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/people-move-big-cities-fashion-120000897.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuYmluZy5jb20v&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAGQy_ryWMrrJasxRYCFe0hIwYQ-L2gVwjGXC18vPeIQMCLDM-d53HHnjPtYK6Y-csWBXM0eMk0x_eAGya-hNcjOiAjgjflMoCD9qMxstS7GQMlJGkJCUdhM-atW-VE-wdAQNFVwvcGjrv814LmFqcVu80KogQMep8hx-TV5G6hKx
Palmer, S. (2021, May 12). Glampervans and the death of mini-breaks: All the 2021 travel trends. Retrieved from https://www.euronews.com/travel/2021/05/12/here-s-what-experts-are-forecasting-for-the-travel-industry-in-2021