• Derek W Gardiner

Britain has always been socially distanced and that is not a good thing.



By Derek W Gardiner

For the past 11 months, we've been living with two-metre and laterally one metre plus social distancing which government scientists insist must go on for forever and a day to stop the spread of an illness for which most people have no symptoms at all, despite all the damage that it will do to community cohesion. Professor Tim Spector, who will surely turn out to be the villain when the next Bond film is finally released, has said that there should not be mass gatherings "for the next few years". Britain seems to have taken to it quite well and the reason for this is that we have always been very socially distanced.


Before the pandemic, it was considered rude to talk to someone you didn't know unless it was very urgent to do so. The last few generations of children have been taught to not talk to strangers and the lesson has stuck into adulthood. Prior to the onset of the Wuhan coronavirus, I was just as guilty of this as anyone else. I enjoyed my personal space in public places such as the university library or public transport. I had the habit of putting my bag on the seat next to me to deter others from sitting there and would try and find the quietest floor to study in.


There were only a number of acceptable settings to speak to people you didn't know, fortunately, I experienced many of them at university such as clubs, societies and events. However, having always lived in urban areas I found it very surprising when going on trips to rural villages or small towns to find people actually saying hello to me while I passed them in the street. The first rule of urban life seems to be, this isn't Forrest Gump, you shouldn't talk to anyone who passes you or sits next to you on a park bench, you should respect other people's space etc.


Technology has also changed things, yes social media has it's advantages when it comes to meeting people during the lockdown and while it is possible to make friends over zoom, is the quality of friendship really the same? my argument would be no. The distraction presented by social media platforms is also likely to confine people to a narrower group of people. Why get to know your neighbours when you can spend most of your day scrolling through Facebook and liking people's profile pictures or arguing with someone, who may not even be a real person on Twitter.


Two-metre social distancing is simply bringing into law and institutionalising that which has already been there for a long time. The hope that was there in the early days that the pandemic might rebuild community bonds with and restore a common purpose has evaporated, it seems that the powers that be don't want this to happen.