Abstract: This short article uses data gathered from an online survey which 950 respondents completed from 58 different countries across the world. Respondents were asked about 1) their views of coronavirus, 2) the lockdown and social distancing, 3) their perceptions of media and government and 4) the future. The results of this paper draw on section 4 of the survey to discuss participants’ views on what the coronavirus outbreak may mean for humanity in the future.
Keywords: Coronavirus, Survey, Future, Change, Society.
Introduction: The advent of Coronavirus
In the West, people live in their own consumer bubble. They work only to spend and aspire to want what is in the shops and look for moments to indulge, and live our ‘personal dreams’ through consumption. This is how we ‘enjoyed’ our lives; this was how we spent our time up until a few months ago. Suddenly, the fast-paced almost invincible world which loved so dearly economic expansion and profit, ground almost immediately to a standstill. Having learned nothing from 2008, the markets plummeted. All the news coverage related to Brexit started to dissipate. There was a new ‘threat’ supposedly coming to Europe. It would suddenly hit us they told us but we were too busy enjoying our liberal freedoms in commercial centers to worry about it. Then the virus hit us and whole countries locked down and sent their citizens home: we were at the mercy of the media unable to make sense of the ‘real’ and the ‘fake’, all the while absorbing contradictory information about how the virus and its effects. We became frustrated and anxious.
In a western culture dominated by advertising and mass media, we are relentlessly influenced to discard collective identities and exclusively pursue individuality through the symbols presented to us by the world of consumption. This inevitably leaves our ‘individuality’ anxious, incomplete, and, ultimately, a myth that reflects our growing distance from reality and our submersion in a commodified hyper-reality that has disrupted and displaced all collective forms and mutual interests. These comprehensive changes to everyday social experience play a significant role in the gradual transformation of human subjectivity into one that prefers the surrogate and hyperreal world of consumer goods over a confrontation with what is real and actually happening in society. What I am saying is that the role of consumerism in our lives prevents us from overcoming our primal fears about grave problems in the world and our own mortality. Therefore, this intensifies rather than transcends the emotional need for a coherent order of symbols, which can be met temporarily by Instagram and Netflix…but when that mask (literally) slips, reality’s traumas multiply and bite hard. Will this fracture result in our total undoing? Could this be the jolt the social order needs to find a more collective moral pathway forward? Or is it a temporary glitch in this system of plastic entertainment? How can society change in the face of this new ‘threat’? Can we pull together, can the social system change? A YouGov (2020) poll of 4,343 participants found that only 9 percent (n=341) in their study said that they would like to see ‘life go back to normal’ meaning that a majority wanted a different structure to society. While to date, over 250,000 people have died as a result of the virus, the participants in the study clearly saw benefits to the coronavirus. Over half (51 percent, n=2,214) appreciated the cleaner air while 27percent (1,162) said that they had noticed more wildlife in their local area. For over a third (40 percent, n=1720), the experience of lockdown because of the virus had a sense of community and 39 percent (1,693) indicated that, as a consequence, they had been in contact more with family and friends (Wood et al., 2020). In environmental modeling that tracked four Chinese cities during the lockdown, Burke (2020) noted that the economic disruption potentially saved the lives of 77,000 who would have otherwise died of issues relating to air pollution. These are significant indicators that the public have noticed some difference and the sudden jolt to social life as we know it could be what is needed to make redundant the old model of society and mark the beginning of a new future.
Aims and Methodology
The aim of the study was to study the social, psychological, and emotional impact of lockdown had on families and individuals during the coronavirus pandemic. The project made use of a 52 question semi-structured online survey which was split into five sections. The first section was about general questions about coronavirus and if people were worried, how long they had been in lockdown, how often they talked about it with others. The second section sought to ask about social distancing and self-isolating and whether the measures were appropriate, and what measures people took to avoid contracting the virus (wear a mask, gloves, etc.). The next section was on the specific experience of lockdown and how this had impacted on participants, those nearest them or indeed those farthest away from them; particular attention was given to feelings and habits which were undertaken more/the same/less as a consequence of the lockdown (sleeping, drinking, exercise, etc.). There was a section on perceptions of media and government asking participants to reflect on the credibility of the former and the performance of the latter. The penultimate section was a speculative set of questions about the future and, because of coronavirus, asking participants what it meant for the future and how did they think it now looked. Lastly, there was a section recording typical demographic information. The survey took around 15 to 18 minutes to complete and was life during a period of one month from 30th March to 8th to May 2020 which covered lockdown for a large number of countries across the world. For the study to capture how people were feeling during the lockdown, data collection was only reserved for this period as leaving lockdown may have provoked other feelings. In total, 950 responses were made to the survey (see sample demography for further detail).
Coronavirus currently affects everyone around the world for varying reasons so the sampling methodology should not discriminate as my principle aim was to see how this experience was felt during a finite period of time. To assure the appeal and reach of the survey it was translated into six languages which were English (n=534), Spanish (n=217), German (n=69), French (n=50) Italian (n=49), and Arabic (n=31). The choice of language was not necessarily made on any other basis than I had access to these translators at this period of time. The survey was advertised via Linked In on a daily basis in all six languages throughout the ‘live period’ of the survey. Additionally, it was also placed in Facebook forum discussion rooms based on Coronavirus (see Conroy et al. 2012). This project was unfunded so there was no budget for advertising for participation via social media (Bennetts et al. 2016; Gu et al., 2016), so I joined ten different public and private coronavirus discussion forums that covered Europe, America, South America, and Asia. General posts advertising the study with the relevant language links were undertaken twice a week while combined with posting general discussion questions (based on an element of the survey).
Faculty of Social Sciences and Communication, European University, Madrid, Spain