2021, the year everything changed
From its beginning, 2020 announced itself to be remarkable. Besides the fact that people all over the world expected this year a clarification in terms of Trump legacy, under the possibility of “four more years” of the same, 2020 started with a looming crisis in the relationships between China and the US, with the ongoing conundrum of Brexit, with devastating wildfires in Australia, and with a strange - but still localized at the time - respiratory epidemic in a mostly unknown province of China. Who would have thought that a minuscule biological particle - a virus - would end up having the biggest impact this year?
Throughout history, epidemics (and more so pandemics) brought major changes in the way people think of themselves and of those who surround them. The plague in the Middle Ages arguably contributed to the rise of bourgeois class in Europe and to the entering the era of Renaissance, the TB in XIX century set important aesthetic canons associated with Romanticism and the pre-Raphaelites, and more recently HIV-AIDS shifted our views on sexuality and related practices - with an important socio-political impact.
The current pandemic uprooted every aspect of life as we knew it. It scrambled macro-economic calculations and provoked a reset in economic models. It reoriented international relations and offered new points of leverage in expertise and vaccine diplomacy. It gave new signification to scientific collaboration and it showed its power. It tested - and continues to do so - individual and collective resilience. It reorganized the architecture of work (from office to home), and it revealed the importance of the hitherto invisible or invisiblised workers. It changed parents' relationship with their children, and made us reevaluate and hopefully value more the efforts of educational institutions from kindergartens to Universities. It brought to surface the importance of nature and indirectly the impact of climate change. In fact, for many, it literally brought back nature to their thoughts, by rendering visible and audible the wildlife that surrounds us even in the most dense of the world’s cities. It also increased violence, both domestic and collective, it radicalized already heavily polarized political views, and it brought many on the verge of mental imbalance. We went from pandemic fatigue to pandemic anger, passing through pandemic intrigue…
In other words, the virus and our reaction to it reorganized political spaces and individual lives, and it ultimately changed our relationship with death.
(A poignant recent article by Joseph Confavreaux published in mediapart.fr reveals the fundamental, anthropological (says the author), change in our relationship with our departed: the lack of mourning rituals for most of those who we lose to COVID-19. The absence of mourning has important effects on our ways of perceiving life and death, and certainly rearranges our WorldViews in the long term.)
In other words, or better said in one word: Reset is the overarching verb (and noun) for 2020.
However, each of us, individually and collectively, push the reset button in a different manner, and this depends on the millions of factors that combine social positions, multiple cultural belongings, personal experiences, and intimate preferences. The present study will reveal important trends in reseting in the Romanian cultural space of 2020. There are few of them that are important to watch in medium and long term, and perhaps in relation to various global trends.
First of all, absent the frequency of direct contact, individuals world wide were compelled to turn towards themselves. It was a forced learning curve to celebrate the amazing space of domesticity and interiority. It continues to be a crush course in celebrating small victories and mundane occurrences, while coping with daily tedium. However, culturally some people were more prepared than others to do this with empathy and compassion.
Globally, directly stemming from the conversations around health care giving during the pandemic, the importance of ethics permeates all aspects of business today. This trend will continue to increase on the background of generalized adoption of Artificial Intelligence, and echoing the shift from shareholders capitalism to stakeholders capitalism. Locally, individuals may have taken the path of interiority more literally, turning it into a path of individualist separation from the grand questions such as ethics and responsibility.
How do individuals and consumers in Romania relate to “the time to reset”?
Emotional Independence is an ascending trend as measured by this study. This is an indicator of a maturing society at large, in which the locus of control is shifting from outside factors to internal means.This is an important trend as it sets the tone for most of what can be observed in this study.
One can say that perhaps for Romanians, having the pandemic as an accelerator, an entire new world opens up, the world of interiority, from domestic space to the perception of what makes oneself happy. The primacy of the “I” moves from desires expressed through exterior means, and through the eyes of the other, to personal needs detached from the others’ gaze.
This indicates that, in the medium and long term, intimacy will perhaps gain more importance, from intimate choices to openness towards intimate themes of conversation (and choice). But, gaining emotional independence means maturing, not mature. It is rather an adolescent stage, if we are to keep within the metaphor of individual ages. Emotional independence may express itself in mature or immature ways - but regardless of this, it is determinant for the general behaviour.
For example, while a mature way to express emotional independence is to show vulnerability, a trend that is increasing in the western hemisphere, in the early phase of gaining emotional independence showing vulnerability is at first perceived as weakness (remember adolescent times?). This may partially explain why in Romania, to dare vulnerability has a decreasing trend this year. Another factor may be of course the general vulnerability in which the world finds itself in the present day, and the cultural trait present in many eastern cultural spaces that emphasizes showing strength in face of adversity, and hiding vulnerability. Displaying vulnerability would upset the hierarchy in a society in which hierarchical relationships form the basis of its organization.
It is only natural that in the context of increased pressure on oneself without much external distractions, combined with the drastic reduction of mobility everyone, globally, turned towards the virtual world. But, that world that previously was an escaping route, became in the past nine months for many of us the route to work. Turning on the computer is our new commuting, and not (as previously) our path to disconnect from the immediacy of the workspace by plunging into devouring cute cat photos. It is only normal that globally - and locally - people, particularly those whose work is linked to the computers, express an increased desire to disconnect, to switch off. And switch off they do, if they can. This also brought a radical reconsideration of the role of social networks in our life. On the background of physical forced distancing, the importance of in-person communication becomes more and more felt by the public at large, Romania making no exception. The desire to switch off is thus combined with a feverish search for authenticity and small pleasures that the virtual world fails to provide. What catches the eye in this study is the observation that while the respondents perceive themselves increasingly trying to switch off and in search for authenticity, they also think that others do this much less. This is in fact the expression of the paradox of authenticity - because by searching for it, we also express our desire to be unique, including the unicity of the search itself. The shape of this perception is indeed given also by the search for emotional independence, and the distance left to travel towards understanding and integrating interdependence.
Re-setting is a time of unsettling. Therefore the tendencies that appear dominant this year may look surprising because they speak about switching off, reconsidering, and switching on again. While emotional independence will most probably continue to increase, its expressions will most likely change in the future, as it matures. If I were to make a prediction, I would say, based on current data, that we may expect in medium term (3-5) years a reversal of the decreasing tendency in showing vulnerability and empathy. The current state is also a state of overcompensation in a space of uncertainty, in Romania and elsewhere. What is important to retain is that the same feelings and desires acquire a variety of expressions, and that sometimes consumers will discover what they truly desire only once they experience it. For those who prepare new products to be launched in Romania, I would say: Reset, and dare vulnerability. It will be rewarded in the long term, as we will enter in the process of healing - from COVID-19 and from other ailments that were rendered visible by this pandemic.