THE ROARING TWENTIES OF THE LAST CENTURY
were a dazzling flash of economic expansion irradiated from the United States to the rest of the West and fostered a climate of euphoria and blind confidence in the capitalist system. The need to leave behind the dramas of the First World War (1914-1918) and the unjustly named ‘Spanish Flu’, which began in the last months of the Great War, combined with the arrival of technical advances and changes in social habits to shape the new spirit of modernity. An era linked to partying, economic waste and sexual excess. In spite of particularities and distances, there are several voices from the academic world that predict a repetition of the ‘post-Covid mad years’.
Before continuing to draw further parallels, it would be worth reflecting on whether those years were as happy as the memories that popular culture has taken care to imprint on us.
Behind the chimera of prosperity symbolised by endless glamorous parties to the rhythm of jazz or Charleston, there was the advance of totalitarianism, the threat of a new war of enormous proportions and a speculative bubble that would eventually burst in the crash of 1929, sweeping away the daydreams that had characterised this opulent era of garçon haircuts and art deco skyscrapers.
Here (and now), the early twenties are weighing down a still evolving and unresolved episode.
After more than half a year of restrictions and modifications in our social behaviours, the long-awaited moment when the pandemic is behind us will merit a great celebration that is beginning to be imagined in many people’s heads. But being in a pandemic, that moment may be diffuse rather than abrupt, and there may be health precautions that we will have to continue to maintain. Humanity is undoubtedly facing one of its greatest challenges in the battle against SARS-CoV 2, and the creation of the various vaccines in record time is an unprecedented scientific milestone. We know that the next few years will be crucial but they are not the only challenges we face. The energy crisis and the climate emergency will condition our way of life and require joint and decisive action by citizens and governments to minimise their impact. You have to have a lot of techno-optimism and faith in the system to think that we can continue to squeeze the planet’s finite resources without consequences.
Epidemiologist and sociology researcher at Yale University Nicholas Christakis believes that the current stage of the pandemic will last at least until the end of 2021, followed by a transition period, and around 2024 we will enter the post-pandemic. After the economic recovery is complete, society could enter a phase that, with nuances, could resemble those roaring twenties. Christakis expects our socialising trend to accelerate as the economy and the arts prosper.
“People will relentlessly seek out social interactions”.
Logic tells us that after taking refuge in our homes and drastically reducing our encounters with other people, we are gradually recovering our spaces for socialising, but on an intimate level it is possible that different dynamics are intersecting.
On the one hand, a possible sexual frenzy arising from the need to feel relief after seclusion, and on the other, a reluctance to cross certain boundaries of physical contact. Communication through screens has installed us in a social laziness towards “real” physical relationships that we will find it hard to shake off.
This screenisation of social relations, this Screen New Deal as Naomi Klein defined it – which confinement has accelerated and established – has led many people to find a place of comfort in virtuality, a place of greater security. But human beings are human in their relationship with the rest of the world, in physical contact with others, and it is in this direct relationship that things happen because there is involvement. This is what Francesc Núñez Mosteo, an expert in sociology of emotions and director of the Master’s degree in Humanities (UOC), argues when studying the evolution of relationships in pandemic times. Physical interaction, the presence of bodies generates links, commitments and, in general, the wisdom of life.
The lockdown, which meant taking our foot off the accelerator, helped us to get a better feel for things.
The presence of the virus and the restrictions it implies have required us to rethink our relationships and interdependencies, making us more selective and creating smaller close-knit groups in which it has nevertheless been possible to go deeper among their members. This is how Carme Guillén, coordinator of the psychology and society group of the COPC (Official College of Psychology of Catalonia) analyses it, making a distinction between how it has affected and will affect depending on the vital moment or personal situation. It will have a different impact on mature people who live with a partner than on those who would like to find one, or on those entering adolescence, with a whole world to discover.
The very notion of “safe sex” requires redefinition. While previously understood as the use of prophylactic methods to prevent disease transmission, in today’s world where even a non-contact, physical approach has the potential to transmit the virus, this concept becomes more complex. It is up to each individual to determine what requirements need to be met in order to feel safe. The second part is to share them in order to know the other person’s and be able to negotiate them. It is no problem to ask about issues such as how they use their mask, what risky situations they face in their day-to-day life, how wide their social bubble is, or even to ask them to take a test before an encounter. Communication, honesty and empathy to be able to achieve peace of mind, and once this is achieved… let it all burn with the right spark.
We do not know what the years of this new decade will bring, nor how they will be similar to or different from those of the last century, but if there is one thing humanity promises us, it is constant change, the obligatory adaptation to survive while facing similar and recurring problems, such as economic crises, political tensions, pandemics, etc. “Old acquaintances” to which new ones will be added, and to which we will have the option of responding. On which of the possible alternatives we choose will depend our fate as a collective, the same collective that we are so determined to divide, but which shares the same ground and sky.