The Roaring 2020s

As I was listening to the radio in my car last week, I heard some commentary that at first seemed very encouraging.  In America, the 1920s were a period of economic growth, prosperity and optimism, with the decade being dubbed “The Roaring Twenties” as a result.  Much of this was fueled by the end of World War I but also, the end of the Spanish Flu pandemic.  Citizens weary of quarantine and masks were eager to gather again, socialize, celebrate, hear live music; jazz and dance soared in popularity.  It was also an era of robust consumerism which helped fuel a weakened economy, and advances in technology such as automobiles and radio made it seem as though anything was possible.  

This announcer then compared the Roaring Twenties to our current times.  As we saw vaccines rolling out and cases dropping in 2021, it appeared there truly was a light at the end of the tunnel; it heralded the beginning of the end of the covid-19 pandemic. I find it interesting and rather enjoyable that it corresponds with spring, warmer weather, an increase in daylight and sunshine, the season of rebirth and renewal.  

But will the USA “come back” as we did in the Roaring Twenties? Are we eager to host family gatherings, attend a live concert, watch a baseball game in a stadium with fans?  Will bars and restaurants rebound and attract record numbers of customers for in person dining?  As of yet, of course, that all remains to be seen. 

On the one hand, human beings are social creatures by nature and it is simply not normal to be isolated from each other for extended periods of time. We’ve had an entire year where birthdays, holidays, weddings, funerals, even worship services either simply did not happen, or they were “reimagined” in virtual format to weakly emulate the real thing. And technology, for better or for worse, seems to be an adequate replacement for many people when it comes to social interaction. One can reflect on the widespread popularity of social media even well before the current pandemic and how much easier it is to be “friends” on Facebook than in everyday life.  It takes more time, effort and energy to maintain a real relationship over time compared to liking someone’s post.

So, Americans in the 1920s did not have technology or social media to replace human interaction—maybe that drove them back sooner to congregate in person.  Or, another factor, they didn’t have social media (or news media) to promote fear mongering or misinformation regarding the state of the pandemic. It is remarkable to think there was no test to identify viral infection during the Spanish Flu pandemic, nor any treatment or vaccine available. Truly, we should be in a much better position to pursue a more rapid path to normalcy, all things considered; yet I see signs that it’s going to be a very slow process.

As an example, one of the hallmarks of academic medicine is to attend and present at conferences.  I have a proposal accepted for a meeting in October of 2021, and just received notification that it is still going virtual.  And this is an event attended almost entirely by physicians who all should have been vaccinated many months prior.

I’ve also heard from several employed by large Minnesota corporations that the likelihood of them returning to the workplace before 2022 is very slim.  In other words, working from home might become the new norm, or perhaps going into the office just once or twice a week.  And this is again considering the notion of widely available vaccine distribution so that every American should have access to the shot by the end of May.

I had my second covid shot in January.  A few weeks later, when working from my office (as opposed to in clinic) I started to get up and walk to the break room or the restroom without a mask on; I was often the only person on my floor, and I knew if I did bump into someone, we were likely both fully vaccinated making it extremely low risk.  And yet even knowing this, it felt funny walking around without a mask on, as though something was missing, like I wasn’t wearing any pants. Oh wait; I hear that’s more of a Zoom consideration…

So while I welcome the notion of Roaring 2020’s and yearn for the day when we get back to normal, I do question what that path actually looks like, and if there are barriers unforeseen that may not relate directly to the virus.  Are we too comfortable in virtual mode, allowing technology to replace human interaction?  Is it too easy to work from one’s basement and avoid everyday hassles like driving to work, wearing business clothing, going to get lunch?  Or is fear the dominant factor, so that even when we have an arsenal of treatments for the virus and now vaccines, people will still be too scared to leave their homes?  

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Meanwhile, it may help to share a few powerful quotes and Bible verses about fear:  

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ~ Nelson Mandela

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:7

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” ~ Marie Curie

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” ~ Proverbs 29:25

“The only thing we have to fear is…fear itself;  nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts.” ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” ~ Matthew 6:34

How do you envision getting back to normal?

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