The return to “ normal ” is going to be so awkward


[Gadget Lab intro theme music]

LG: Hello everyone. welcome to Gadgets Lab. I am Lauren Goode. I am a senior writer at WIRED.

MC: And I’m Michael Calore, editor-in-chief at WIRED.

LG: And WIRED Editor-in-Chief Alan Henry is joining us today from New York. Alan and his team write up all the helpful tips on our website. They cover the video game industry. And Alan is currently writing a book on productivity. Hey, Alan, thanks for being with us.

Alan henry: Thanks for calling me back.

LGWIRED Science Editor Matt Simon is also here. Matt writes on climate change, human psychology and Strange creatures, which you may have seen on Netflix, as this is a video series. Hey, Matt.

Matt simon: Hello, and thank you for inviting me.

LG: Alright, guys, it’s been a weird year, and you probably don’t need me to tell you that. This pandemic has truly made all of us feel a deep sense of loss and tested our personal limits of uncertainty. But to the advantage, people get vaccinated. And while we are not out of the woods yet and some countries are still experiencing alarming spikes in Covid cases, we can slowly start to reintroduce normalcy into our lives. But that presents its own jarring change, doesn’t it, for what is normal? And just because you get the vaccine doesn’t mean all the anxiety will go away. There are a whole host of other reasons why the prospect of a return to normal can seem daunting, or why we may not be quite ready. So I want to start with Matt because, Matt, you wrote a story last week for WIRED about the psychology of this collective sense of uncertainty. And I guess my first question is, are we going to be okay?

MRS: This is an excellent question, which we must tackle on several levels. And the first would be our own personal experience here. We’ve been through quite a trauma, and this level of uncertainty is just very bad for the human brain. We thirst for certainty. But there are also, as we reopen, interpersonal relationships that we must navigate. We have to start eating at the restaurant again. Have we forgotten how to do this? Or drink in bars, that sort of thing. And then also picking up friendships that may have been dropped through it all. So there is this personal level for you, yourself, also your relationships, but even above that there is this societal level as we come back to what we can call “normal”. How to renegotiate relationships?

LG: And we have to note that much of this applies to people who were fortunate enough to work from home, who had office jobs during that time. This is not the level of anxiety that people who are essential workers or frontline workers, who have had to interact with others, experienced during this time. So, Matt, the psychologist you spoke to for the story you wrote, what did they say about what this stress did to us?

MRS: What they’re saying is that once we get this vaccine in our arm, it’s not like the stress is going to magically go away, unfortunately. We have been living for over a year with extremely high levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, wreaking havoc on our bodies. In the short term, they’re survival mechanisms to get us away from lions and that sort of thing. But over the course of the year, with completely high levels of these hormones, it’s just a terrible thing, so our brains are going to take a long time to get out of it. So don’t expect to feel 100% better as soon as you get vaccinated. The uncertainty will certainly disappear to a large extent. But then again, we also need to reconnect with all of these interpersonal relationships.



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