An opinion piece on the ‘new normal’. Join me as I look back on history and see how our ancestors adapted for survival, because if they could do it – I know we can!

The ‘new normal’ – a phrase we’ve all heard lately. Social distancing for 12-18months, no group gatherings indefinitely, no end in sight to our lockdown lifestyle, but public safety remaining as priority number one.

So, what does the ‘new normal’ really mean? What will that look like? And more importantly, how will we feel living it? Questions many of us are asking on a daily basis, and questions we SHOULD be asking ourselves. We do shape our reality after all, and we should have a hand in defining what qualifies ‘normal’ in our own lives – within the government guidelines of course.

This constant questioning of life, of normality, and of what it will mean to our lives made me think – when has this happened before? We definitely aren’t the first generation to face adversity or monumental change, and we definitely won’t be the last. But perhaps looking back on history will make us feel ready for the fight, more optimistic of change, and steadfast in our approach to the ‘new normal’. Humanity are a hugely resilient, adaptable and genuinely innovative mammal after all.

I mean, I don’t want to be too bold – but we are living in a world where the President of the United States (the Leader of the Free World, if you will) is active on Twitter. Something I personally never thought I would see. So, see – change happens, we adapt, we adjust, and we learn to… live with it.

17th Century

Upon my research (and not surprisingly), it appears our adaptability and innovation as humanity, dates back centuries. Centuries upon centuries. We have developed so much throughout history, since our very evolution saw us evolve from primates to hairy cave men, and now to the more modern (and trimmed) homo sapiens we are today. It’s in our very make-up to adapt, to develop and to survive.

The first century that really stood out to me in experiencing adversity and huge changes to normal life, was the 17thcentury, aka the Scientific Revolution. A time when superstition and witchcraft were replaced with scientific theories:

The old idea that the sun revolved around the Earth was finally disproved by Galileo. People facing life-threatening illnesses, who in 1600 had simply prayed to God for health, now chose to see a doctor… But by 1700 people had a confidence that the foremost scientists did understand the world, even if they themselves did not, and that it was unnecessary to resort to superstitions to explain seemingly mysterious things.” (The Guardian)

Now I don’t know about you, but if people in the 17th Century who couldn’t comprehend ‘Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, when it was published in 1687’, could trust that science was the way forward, and adapt accordingly; surely in the information age, we too can adapt with both our knowledge and our friend the internet?

18th Century

It hasn’t just been science that has changed society and our way of life in history - Politics and Human Rights have also made huge contributions to humanity, and how we all live it across the world to this day. The 18th century saw the French Revolution shift the groundwork of Europe and welcomed the adoption of what we now see as modern politics. The idea that ‘every man is equal in the eyes of the law’, woman’s rights (although some would argue this is still a work in progress), the abolition of slavery, and more.

It was a time where chaos in everyday life was shifted to welcome safety, consistency and equality, and a time where humanity saw huge shifts in normality – and for the better: “Although many governments were initially cautious of encouraging change, without the French Revolution, it is difficult to see how the great social reforms of the 19th century – the abolition of slavery, universal education, the rights of women to act as independent property owners, public health, and the diminution of capital punishment – would have proceeded as they did.” (The Guardian)

20th Century

A century of war, of loss and of great adversity, but also a time of huge resilience, of global connection, and of the most prolific of them all – communications. A century where letter delivery by horseback, or letter by post was replaced by internet (hello dial up!), and for nostalgia’s sake – the good ol’ home phone! Telecommunications transformed normality for society and suddenly meant friends and family living across country or across the world, and even transferring money to said family and friends, was a possibility within a matter of days.

Communications that were developed to aid in war times, were suddenly adapted to home life – changing life as we knew it: “…Just riding from Falmouth to London took Lieutenant Lapenotière 37 hours and 21 changes of horse. After the intercontinental telegraph cable was laid in 1872 it became possible to send a message to Australia immediately. The railways, telegraph and telephone made messaging much faster – in some cases almost instantaneous. This was just as significant as the modern communications revolution, if not more so.” (The Guardian) To put it into perspective, businesses and private homes could now talk on the phone AND use the internet at the same time (Insider) – the development of telecommunications were, and still are, a game changer.

21st Century

It’s hard to know where this century will take us, and where it will end, but there is no doubt that it’s been a century of global markets, of technology, of wifi, of tourism and of world media – but it’s also been a century of political mistrust, terrorism, of consumerism and of greed. But while the latter is a bitter pill to swallow, it again echoes a huge resilience in humanity and in our ability to bounce back. To adjust and to keep pushing on. After all, what’s the alternative?

We now have phones that are ‘smart’, we have tv (and can choose to skip commercials), we have ‘no-smoking’ zones, we can track our pizza deliveries, we can see live maps, we can track how far away taxis are, we can instantly chat with people on the other side of the world, we can view any house in the world from anywhere in the world, and we can date people from our mobile device – with Tinder’s revenue in 2019 cracking $1.15 billion (businessofapps). And need I say it again, President Trump is on Twitter! To think our ancestors dealt with war times and watching loved ones go to the front line, and we deal with online trolling and privacy (or lack thereof), and generations before dealt with the plague, survival, personal hygiene, and some are still fighting for clean water and safety.

Without getting too deep, these historical comparisons make one thing blaringly obvious to me: Whatever the ‘new normal’ is for us, today, tomorrow or the next day - whether that be in an era with COVID or an era post-COVID - what I do know, is whatever it throws at us, we will adapt. We will find a way to make it work, and we will thrive again. It’s in our make-up, it’s in our genes, and it’s in our very instincts. The difference in those who succeed and those who don’t, may lie in attitude and in approach to change (and I must admit, change for me is a hard one!), but it also lies in togetherness and in marching forward as a whole.

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we are all in this together, regardless of our postcode or socio-economic status and opinion. ‘The silent killer’ as Boris Johnson called it has made us realise, the world is smaller than we think, and we will move forward as long as we use our knowledge for good, and our experience for logic.

And with that in mind, any ‘new normal’ will see an adjustment period, followed by a period of prosper.

Besides, if woman can now voice their democratic rights, if social media can provide an income to influencers, and if our ancestors could move past nuclear warfare and introduce healthcare and space exploration – things humanity never comprehended being a possibility... We are capable of profound development.

Just saying.

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