Leave home for what?
Things that can be done without leaving home: teleworking, seeing friends via videoconference, attending premieres on audiovisual platforms, doing banking or administrative procedures, looking for a partner, playing the video game console, remote chess, virtual shopping , be cared for by a doctor, and so on. Almost all these activities previously involved going out, moving to another space, interacting with other beings of flesh and blood. But even before the pandemic there was a trend towards a life more centered on the home, thanks to technology, and encouraged, at times, by the loss of purchasing power (at home it is usually cheaper and faster). Now that trend has been radically and mandatorily accelerated by the coronavirus. It remains to be seen how living more cloistered and atomized will affect public space, social ties and our own psyche.
As proof that the phenomenon is not new, there is the fact that as early as 1981, with the beginning of food delivery and cable television, the futuristic and trend-seeking Faith Popcorn coined the term cocooning (from cocoon, cocoon in English) for the process by which a person gradually withdraws and socializes less and less. In 1995 the philosopher Javier Echeverría already described in his work Domestic cosmopolitans (Anagram) how in the “telecasa” fostered by technology the boundaries between public and private were blurred and new walls could arise between people.
“People need to know where they belong: their community, their neighborhood, their workplace,” explains psychologist Jesús Saiz, coordinator of the Master’s Degree in Social Psychology at the Complutense University of Madrid, “if the sense of belonging is blurred, it can Be dangerous”. That kind of uprooting can spoil our psychological well-being, lead us to depression. We need others and we also need to know that others need us: knowing our place in the world also gives meaning to our lives. It is true that the internet can be a new virtual space where social relationships can be deployed, but it is not the same and our minds do not understand it the same way.
In Japan, the phenomenon of the hikikomori is known, those young people who prefer to stay for very long periods without leaving their room, strongly isolated from the demands of the outside world based on TV, internet and video games (in 2015 there were 541,000 according to a government survey, a 1.6% of the population). In recent years, the term nesting (from nest, nest in English) to refer to the decision to spend free time at home and thus avoid financial straits. “The virtual is a formula low cost”, Says the psychologist José Ramón Ubieto, author of The post-covid world (Ned Ediciones), “the presence will remain in the future as a value to pay and not affordable for everyone”. For example, not everyone will be able to go to the doctor in person, nor will they have tangible caregivers, but will be treated and monitored by distant health telemarketers. It is much cheaper to spend Saturday night watching series at home in front of a pizza than to move to a movie theater, restaurant and cocktail bar.
Home isolation practices such as those described have sometimes been classified as beneficial for the mind (by reducing stress and anxiety, by learning to be well with oneself) or by moderating consumption (although it can also be consumed at home) . They have also been denounced as a way cool to whiten precariousness, which prevents many from living a life more focused abroad: poverty has become a trend with a name in English. And they can have an urban and social cost.
Less lively cities
The gradual enclosure can lead us to less lively and varied cities: many shops and establishments, cinemas or bookstores can disappear from the streets eaten by the internet. The hive city: a mere set of juxtaposed dwellings. “We also have an opportunity to promote forms of leisure and enjoyment that do not have to do with the home,” explains architect Izaskun Chinchilla, author of The city of care (Waterfall). He believes that, beyond the hotel industry or local commerce, urban space can serve as a generator of collective experiences: the street or parks can also be places for workshops, meetings or group sports sessions. “There is a correspondence between civic associations and the proper functioning or degree of corruption of basic institutions such as city councils,” says the author.
We have learned by fire that home is a safe place. “For a long time there has been an anti-urban and anti-urban discourse”, points out the anthropologist from the University of Barcelona Manuel Delgado, “outer space is seen as dangerous, cursed, infected, and the home as it was in its origin: a refuge.” In 2020 not only were there those who stayed home for fear of the disease, but there was a wave of fear of the disease. occupation household. However, according to the expert, the urban space should be a meeting place, where chance operates or where we cling to social routines such as going to the bar before going home or taking the children to the park. “I think that will be difficult to change,” says Delgado, “the pandemic has not prevented demonstrations, riots and even an assault on the Capitol.” Friendships are made on the street and people participate in social mobilizations. If the home is the realm of the individual, the public space is the realm of society, even if society does not seem very adept at using this space.
Lack of contact with other social groups leads to a lack of empathy, and even deactivates the brain areas responsible for understanding or identification, according to various neuroscience research by Lasana Harris, from Duke University, and Susan Fiske, from Princeton . The friction with the different in the public space collaborates against dehumanization and prejudice. On the other hand, cloistered and distant relationships (with the lack of corporeity and possible anonymity) can lead to polarization and social disruption (just take a look at Twitter to see it, where shared hatred seems to be the vehicle of the cohesion between individuals). In ancient Greece the agora, the square where the citizens met, was the germ of democracy. And the quality of a democracy continues to have a lot to do with the quality of its public space.