Something is changing. The government restrictions, the social isolation and the cultural responses coming about due to Corona measures, are having an effect; on our social relations, our psyche, and on the way we interact with the environment we find ourselves in. While social measures taken by governments all around the world differ substantially, nobody remains unaffected. Not everyone will change for the better, but some will.
What we are witnessing right now, at least from what I could observe when wandering the streets of Vienna on that May Sunday, might be the signs of a socio-cultural transformation. Maybe for the better, at least in part.
So, I find myself walking through the Viennese Prater amusement park, the oldest of its kind in the world (1766). Sitting down on one of the “Extasy” amusement carts placed outside, arranged for passersby to enjoy, I begin to observe my surroundings.
Two young people with a loud boombox play ‘Trumpet Mayhem’ by YROR? I become curious about the music and approach them sitting in another cart, which is facing the walking way. We talk about how without discos and festivities people aren´t dancing with each other anymore. While this statement may be a mere platitude, Michael Pollan, author of How to Change your Mind argues:
"A platitude is precisely what is left of a truth after it has been drained of all emotion."
That means, there is much to discover when thinking about what this platitude means for us as social animals, when we cannot come together to dance, celebrate and socialize anymore. Yet, this thought has become social reality, with real implications, that we are only beginning to realize.
Last year I talked to one of the announcers working at another Prater attraction. He complained about the loudness in his working environment: Sirens, blinking lights, loud music and all the other stimulants you would expect in a busy amusement park are causing him a lot of stress, he confessed. Now, on a Corona-Sunday the only loud noise in the amusement park was the boombox, playing Hip Hop and Techno.
However, instead of provoking angry responses from those affected by the music, people gathered around. I heard no complaints whatsoever about the music and people appeared to be enjoying the company of others, even if the music may not have been to their liking. The guys with the boombox and I agree that maybe the quality of the whole amusement park experience increases, when the sheer rush of acoustic distractions is diminished, so that qualities can be highlighted instead.
After a while, I decide to say goodbye to the scene and head on through the park, alone. It didn´t take long to notice that most other people strolling around, were in fact, not alone; couples old and young, families, and pairs of all kinds appear, apparently finding the unusual quietness of the Prater as alluring as I did. In fact, I was almost the only singular person nearby (the pictures in this article were taken another day). The naïve thought crossed my mind that, if it wasn´t for the masks and the social distancing regulations people might actually form even more relationships with each other, instead of ignoring what is around them as is the typical behavior of the city dweller.
In The Metropolis and Mental Life (1903) the sociologist Georg Simmel finds that the disregard people show towards each other in the clutter of big city life is a protective mechanism against too much information intake and its overwhelming effects on the psyche. Rushing from point A to point B, obeying a strict schedule, and always having something else on the To-Do list causes immense stress while leaving little room to catch the breath and relate to who or what is around.
In this respect, urban developers have known for long that the quality of our everyday experience within a certain locality is strongly correlated with the quality of social relations we can sustain within that environment. In order to be happy and healthy, people need other people. Maybe this collective shutdown is an opportunity, an opportunity for us to find out what we value in the habitat we live in.
Other People? Tranquility? De-acceleration?
As I continue to wander the couple-laden amusement park, something else strikes me as odd: No one has his or her self-phone in hand, even though we are in a prime area to take photographs. I actually feel a little bit embarrassed as I take some pictures myself, disturbing the peace with a device of high-speed modernity.
Another relevant socio-psychological perspective to take on this is formulated by Hartmut Rosa with his Resonance Theory, which he calls a sociology of the good life, identifying its basic conditions and mechanisms. The theory focuses on our relationship with the world and how this relationship is endangered by a quick-paced way of life and social formations in constant need to dynamically stabilize, describing the inherent imperative of capitalist societies to grow, increase and innovate. As a consequence, many people in modern societies are not only overly obsessed with self-optimization, but also heavily pressured by time constraints.
What if, in this time of slowdown, some people discover the value of less is more? The value of less distraction, less traffic, less consummation, less to do and less self(ie)-centeredness. Times like these and places like the one shown in this example might help us learn that if we want to be healthy and contented, we need to slow down and spend more quality time with the people we care for. Social resonance can only occur if there is time for the process to unfold. Let us find and document these places, which due to the Corona crises have become quiet, so that we can remind others when the pace quickens once again!
Let us build on what we can learn from this crisis and create a better society. The social structure is not set in stone. If we can appeal to such experiences being made right now, that slowing down the tempo actually holds great value, maybe in some places we can convince enough people to make the right decisions. Why should it be unthinkable to favor resonance instead of acceleration and competition as social guidelines?
Let us bury homo economicus once and for all; the theory has been disproven, let us act accordingly. Let us fill the truths behind platitudes with emotions again and realize collectively who and what we really value.
I would love if you share your own experiences of slowdown and resonance, which you may observe in your environment. Use the #resonance to link experiences.