Among those who accept protocols for containing the coronavirus, the formation of pods has begun. The deeply human need to connect in real time will not be denied. Friends and families are coalescing in small groups wherein everyone shares knowledge about where they’ve traveled, with whom they’ve interacted, and how their contacts are faring, health-wise. Have they been to a hot spot? Have they quarantined for two weeks upon return? Have they been tested? If so, what kind of test? Blood, nose, or … what? Where can you get the best test, and how long is the wait? Have they recovered from Covid-19? Do they have antibodies? And do they wear a damn mask?
This old-school, tribal intimacy is happening alongside the now-normal paradox of social media. One could even see it as a kind of corrective to Facebook, et al, or at least a necessary complement, long overdue.
Social media has long enabled a peculiar kind of connection to more people than any medium in human history, making possible thousands of “friendships,” while simultaneously exacerbating feelings of loneliness and isolation. This has been a dilemma since the first decade of this millennium, when social media exploded and changed everything.
Pods, on the other hand, are the real thing; messy, emotional, fraught, but bracingly real. Another human, with all their smells, sounds, stories, faults, attractions and repulsions, is in your actual, precious breathing space.
Without really trying, I have amassed a little over four thousand Facebook “friends.” I’m going to say I really don’t know about 90 percent of them, and they certainly don’t really know me. As I’ve used the medium – it definitely has its uses – I’ve decided we, as a species, have not evolved to have so many “friends.” I feel sure these “relationships” contribute to the proliferation of depression and anxiety, dark feelings resulting from seeing so many, yet not being touched – literally touched – by them. The increasing number of “friends” amplifies the lack of actual connection. And the modes of interaction – the dreaded comments section, and messaging – can awaken destructive natures. I’ve seen friendships ruined, families rent asunder, marriages split. But oh, what lovely curated photos.
Even before the advent of social media, we had drifted from the original concept of the pod, many of us traveling far away from our birthplaces, our families, our region. The Industrial Revolution – planes, trains, automobiles, roads, fuel, etc. – made it all much more possible.
Coronavirus has forced us to contract. We’ve returned in some ways to pre-industrial interaction, to bonding with trust, looking each other in the eye, and giving and accepting real-time attention from a three-dimensional person we actually, really know, someone we’ve allowed to really know us. It can be weirdly exhilarating, evoking DNA memory of how things actually were among humans for millennia.
The received wisdom is that this contraction – unprecedented in recent history, but not at all unprecedented in human history – is temporary. How temporary is one unanswered question, and what will be awaiting us on the other side is another.
Also, who will survive? The formation of pods is a means not only of nourishing basic human needs during a crisis – or anytime – but also of protecting, of trying to ensure who will be physically connected to us for what lies ahead, to help, but also to celebrate alongside us.