Isolation need not mean dormancy
By Lewis Wells
The last few weeks will have been a state of shock and surprise to Generation Z, a generation of young people so used to the freedom and endless liberties that coming home at any time or visiting any establishment, anywhere, may bring, but the withdrawal of hobbies, activities and social gathering is merely the principal impact of the increasing COVID-19 isolation phase. Our parents will most often be at home more regularly than us, many already work from home, having easily accustomed to this change, and our grandparents are ever more used to isolating with the hours in their own days. Despite the immediate and sophisticated challenges the working population is and will be facing, and this cannot be stressed enough, there is another impact, more secondary in nature, that we have not overly considered as being quite disruptive on young people in general.
I am a student in first year studying multiple foreign languages. In a week’s time we will break for a month, for Easter, and most likely resume at a more gentle pace in May, where we are even more unsure on the practicalities and timetabling that will take place. I have an outlet that I could focus on, despite this year being worthless to the grading of my degree. I, like many other students, are now confined to the walls of a bedroom, varied in shape, contents but sharing a common capacity in opportunities. This is not to say that non-students are exempt, they are perhaps a greater target of this piece. On a year out, abruptly brought to a halt, or even a close. Or perhaps you are still searching for your first job, or are working part-time while you do so. We are barely adults, so it is an assumption that our unlocking of our purpose in this world is still.. pending. I came across a tweet the other day which asked viewers to consider if they’d bored themselves or even agitated themselves staring at that one painting, picture, tree outside your window, from that very same vantage point you’ve adjusted to these past few days, or weeks. Very true, that we are now in a slouched ritual. Very true, that we are now confined to what is in essence a boring and lacklustre setting. Untrue, however, that we must accept a state of dormancy for as long as we are isolated, which appears ever more as an accepted parallel and formula for which we are all adopting en masse.
Many of my personal friends thrive solely with others, with social gathering. For many, it is how they discover themselves and both work, live and feel at their best. You might think here, how universal this really applies. The important thing to note is that those who might have a greater connection to social gathering may be those who struggle the most with this unprecedented state of isolation. The removal of friends. The detachment from a ritual of sporadic gatherings, at a plethora of established locations with a plethora of established connections. This may be their greatest asset to their mental health, that they can be surrounded with the people they like, love and share everything with, on a regular basis, only to have this taken away and which can only force a change in perception of personal circumstances. I’m worried. We’re sat at home, scrolling through Twitter. Reading the same articles, or those on the same topic. Playing the same games. We’re not reading, anything. We’re not learning, anything. Isolation makes productivity difficult on a two-tier basis. We have limited access to the outside world, and limited motivation and incentive to find alternative coping mechanisms as we are trapped on the inside.
I took up a part-time job as a Barista at a famous coffee chain in the UK some years ago now, as I started in the Sixth Form. I was on a 10 hour contract, paid around £8 an hour, and had immediate contact with a few members of my team. Since then, I am now working up to 45 hours a week (when obliged), making nearly £10, working occasionally superior roles, and I have worked with and met over 30 people in the company, having solidified fundamental relationships, key skills, an outlet. I’m not a key worker. But my existence has meant that, on many days, my coffee store can open so that hundreds of people can get their daily fix. That my colleagues can look after their children, attend whatever, have a day off. I have played a part in an economy, the economy, no matter the size. Can you imagine the scale of opportunities if most Sixth Formers were to take up temporary or part-time employment up, right after this disaster? That they made some hundreds of pounds on a monthly basis? That they filled the gaps that we ‘need’ others entering the country to fill? This is just one thing I have considered, lying here and thinking, about how we will fight back against the damage that will have already been done. The time that it might take to re-approach our very best, our evolving self.
That young people are struggling to occupy themselves productively in this boring, long-lasting time, is troubling. The lack of incentive to do any other than the same monotonous and occupying things we do with our daily lives with social media consumption and procrastination is telling: we are unaware that, all in all, our use of this time can only have an impact on the pace of our recovery and the development of our own future. We are losing face to face conversation. Talk with your relatives, face-to-face. We are reading less as a population. Order a book, discover a passion for an author, an interest in a subject. The United Kingdom ranks last in Europe for knowing more than one language. Learn some phrases for your next European holiday, and avoid the awkwardness of an exchange, with some 15 minutes of learning. Peace and quiet: Go and meditate. Stare outside, and think. And meanwhile, have the radio in the background. A podcast. An international conversation. Engage with the very resources you are often invited to generally, but with greater incentive and reason. When you do so, do not feel obliged to have to share. Consider these personal and exclusive victories, retaining the lessons learnt without these unsocial media. Discussing the hidden advantages of isolation is publically a precarious suggestion. Yet when we are evaluating our time behind closed doors, the opportunity to have considered how we behaved, thought and dwell as a population will have been considered as something quite rare and inaccessible to us on a regular basis. The ability to pause, and begin a new phase. The things you learn now could be your assets of the future. Consequently, our opportunity to dwell should bring to light how generally proud and grateful we are that sport and music, alongside social gathering, exists. That we are proud to live in a country which enables these opportunities and investments. That on a casual weekend, the range of things we could be doing are not merely as appreciated enough until it all stops. Abruptly. For an indefinite period of time. This phase is not ideal, nor exciting. But it need not spell out depressive and futile. Isolation will mean reflection, and an insight into how we think as a culture, as a population, and it will make for extraordinary response and recovery. It need not mean dormancy.