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The triumph of the introverts We are still paying the price for social distancing

Life in a sanitised bubble. Credit: Holdings/Getty

Life in a sanitised bubble. Credit: Holdings/Getty


December 8, 2022   7 mins

Before scooping up your grandson, niece, or little cousins for a hug this holiday season, the internet would like you to know: “Kids who think they need to comply with adult requests for affection are more likely to be sexually abused.” This warning is the punchline of a recent article entitled “Why You Should Never Make Your Child Hug Anyone”. It’s representative of a miserable discourse that briefly relented during the elbow-bumping days of the pandemic, but has otherwise spilled over regularly in the past decade. The Today show has featured a therapist mom who won’t even hug her own kids without consent, while the Girl Scouts of America trotted out the topic in 2017 as a sort of #MeToo movement for kids —#MommyAndMeToo, perhaps?

This new festive tradition, where we tell our wizened elders to piss off and keep their grubby hands and lips to themselves, obviously has its roots in the all-consuming contemporary dialogue about consent. But this holiday season it hits differently. Rejoice, for gone are the grim days of socially distanced drive-by birthday parties and Thanksgiving over FaceTime; once again, Grandma can be treated like an avatar for child molesters the world over right to her face. The recirculation of articles like these coincides with another notable entry into the every-touch-is-a-bad-touch canon, triggered by a recent update on the MeTooing of author Junot Diaz. Diaz, a Pulitzer-winning fiction writer, was mostly (not fully) cancelled in 2018, after an accusation from writer Zinzi Clemmons that he had once “cornered” and “forcibly kissed” her. Accounts of verbal abuse and interpersonal cruelty from other women swiftly followed, along with rumours that dozens of additional allegations were coming down the pike — or would, if not for the victims’ fears of retaliation for speaking out. As summarised by Ben Smith of Semafor, a media firestorm ensued: “Publications from The Washington Post to New York Magazine ran with headlines about allegations of ‘sexual misconduct’.”

The bombshell, four years later, is a heretofore-unreported revelation in Smith’s article: that the kiss in question was not the open-mouthed, tongue-thrusting assault most readily conjured by the word “forcible”, but a peck on the cheek. Yet for every person who was thrown for a loop by this information, there was another just as willing to die on the hill of “A kiss on the cheek without explicit prior consent is assault, actually”. In the former category was the writer Thomas Chatterton Williams, tweeting bewilderedly: “Imagine getting up and preparing to publicly accuse someone of assault and knowing full well that what you were actually referring to was a kiss on the cheek.” In the latter category was Diaz accuser Monica Byrne (who described a public but heated dinner party conversation with the author as “verbal sexual assault”), as well as recently-fired Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez, herself one of the #MeToo movement’s more controversial figures.

Needless to say, such assertions might (and did) invite a certain amount of snark (France, anyone?) — but there’s also a sober, and sobering, discussion to be had about what this all means in a diverse, high-trust society. The planet is presently home to more than eight billion people, and some fraction of these are bound to behave in ways that are grating to some fraction of the other eight billion; the cultural norms surrounding a kiss-kiss greeting notwithstanding, the world is also full of close talkers, arm-touchers, people who spit a little when they get excited. Annoying? Yes. Within tolerable limits of human diversity? Ah, well, they used to be.

But that was before we became so accustomed to the total elimination of quotidian friction from our lives that even the most fleeting moment of irritation or discomfort began to feel like a tragedy. This is not the first time I’ve observed that the notion of a voicemail as a violation arose roughly in tandem with our ability to use an app to replace an ever-growing list of interactions, but it did. The lack of an online option has become so unusual that when I discovered a local pizza place that still takes orders exclusively by phone call, it felt like an aggressive albeit implicit declaration that those under the age of 35 should get their pepperoni-and-stinger pies elsewhere.

There’s a metaphor here about sensitivity, vulnerability, and how insulating oneself in a bubble can yield the opposite of the desired result, except that the metaphor is lately made real: the US, like many other countries, is currently weathering a wave of infections from all the diseases we didn’t get for two years while we were hiding out, trying not to get Covid. (In the UK, the surge in cases of Strep A among kids has been attributed to the fact that they weren’t allowed to mix in lockdown.)

This was entirely predictable, and yet a remarkable number of people seem to believe that the solution is not to resume normal life and regain normal immune function, but to make our socially-distanced and sanitised bubbles a permanent state of affairs. Some of America’s top pandemic pundits are begging us to bring back masks and other distancing measures, while others appeared to praise China’s draconian Zero Covid strategy, even as the country was rocked by protests. In Los Angeles, home to a particularly relentless public health apparatus, a mandate remains in place that if a person has been infected with Covid, everyone in the household must wear masks at all times, including at home. It is a new vision of normal: Safer. Healthier. Cleaner. Lonelier.

Here the fear of Covid becomes difficult to disentangle from the creeping influence of consent as a framework to govern any interaction in which another person might hug you, touch you, or breathe on you. There’s a sense that if we just create enough rules, enough boundaries — confining every visit, every conversation, every human interaction sexual and non-sexual, within a set of strict limitations — the ordinary discomforts of coexisting with other people could be eradicated.

It does, however, have the peculiar side effect of making every instance of physical touch both existentially fraught and sexually tinged. This is not just about the inexpressible, ugly weirdness of kids being instructed that it’s okay to recoil from Grandma because her hugs are non-consensual (while Grandma is in turn instructed that if her feelings are hurt, she’s guilty of the same horny entitlement that leads men to commit sex crimes). It’s about the pathologising of normal human togetherness, and the normalising of an extremely online brand of misanthropy, all with the pretence that this is the only way to be a decent human being, the only way to show you care.

One of the most remarkable responses to the Junot Diaz cheek kiss was: “It’s okay not to want any intrusions into one’s space and that should be in fact, the standard.” It’s the “standard” that gets me, which if implemented would establish those of us who enjoy physical contact as deviations if not deviants, in need of stern correction. But this idea, so strange by ordinary measures, became truly ascendant during the pandemic: that the emergency-induced state of isolation is better, actually, both scientifically and morally. That we should, indeed, recalibrate society in accordance with the preferences of the most anti-social people in it, the ones who don’t especially like or trust other human beings, the ones who don’t want people in their space. You’d think the paradox of this would be cause for reflection. Reorganising society per the preferences of the anti-social seems, at the very least, a self-contradictory endeavour — on the same level as putting a vegan in charge of the menu for your Festival of Meats. And yet, the beat goes on.

Much has been made in recent weeks of a study showing that Americans now spend an increasing amount of time alone. This was a trend exacerbated by the pandemic but not original to it. I suspect it has been taking root for at least as long as the social web has existed, or perhaps longer, dating to that first moment at which the internet turned society’s shut-ins from solo hermits into a global community — a community with an outsized voice, owing to the propensity of its members to never not be online.

The writing of our impending isolation was surely on the wall amid the unofficial introvert awareness movement of the early 2000s, which led to a Tumblr-fuelled fetishisation of solitude that turned pathological reclusiveness into a point of pride, even an identity. (Sure, sex is great, but have you ever canceled your plans and stayed home on a Saturday night wearing fluffy socks?) Granted, the meme-ified introvert persona was in many cases indistinguishable from a person with clinical depression, but dressing up social withdrawal as an adorable and extremely online personality quirk made it all but impossible to criticise. Those who found it alarming just didn’t understand; they were probably (ew) extroverts.

It’s that frictionlessness again: here is a social milieu where everything from intellectual debates to sexually-charged banter can be shut down at the literal click of a button. Where there’s no threat of folks touching you, breathing on you, or noticing that you’re not wearing pants. Where other people are not only not in your space but cannot be, ever.

Is this better? We certainly tried to convince ourselves as much, in those long months when staying in went from choice to necessity. In addition to fear and stress and Tiger King on Netflix, the pandemic was characterised by an almost frantic forced enthusiasm for the concept of being alone together, the operative word being alone. Browsing the art museum’s collection online was all the culture, without the crowds. Streaming services introduced “group-watch” features to replace going to the movies; rowdy trivia nights at the local pub turned into sterile (but safe!) late-night Zoom affairs. Anything you could do in the real world, you could do better in virtual space: happy hours, birthday parties, conferences. School, work, therapy. Funerals. Especially funerals, given what a veritable minefield they are of both germs (all that sniffling and sobbing) as well as all kinds of nonconsensual hugging and hand-clasping.

In trying to persuade ourselves of the superiority of a socially distant life, we gave our most anti-social tendencies not just a pass but the imprimatur of moral authority. And while the threat of Covid has receded, this new paradigm has not. As recently as two months ago, the advice given in a national newspaper to a person whose continuing reluctance to socialise indoors had left her struggling under “waves of misery and loneliness” was to recast herself in her own mind as a heroic martyr to the cause: “It might help to see your decisions as marks of solidarity with people who do have underlying conditions,” wrote the Guardian‘s columnist. “If you can see these things as badges of consideration for the people most hurt by the pandemic, it might be something you feel happier to be conspicuous for.”

I wonder if it helped this woman even a little to be told that her aching loneliness was actually a badge of honour, that the best way to show her care for other people was to hide herself away from them. I wonder what kind of person would be comforted by this. And I wonder: until when? Having successfully flipped the script so that those who yearn for human contact became the avatar for destructive selfishness, while the recluses in their hermetically-sealed bubbles are the heroes holding society together, how are we meant to come together again?

An introvert and a misanthrope are two different things, but the discourse around how we should live now leaves little distinction between the two. The question of how the lines became so blurred is one thing. The question of how to rediscover the distinction, let alone rediscover the goodness of gathering, of holding each other close, and of refusing to abandon each other to the sanctified isolation of eternal quarantine, should perhaps be answered first.

***

Order your copy of UnHerd’s first print edition here. 


Kat Rosenfield is an UnHerd columnist and co-host of the Feminine Chaos podcast. Her latest novel is You Must Remember This.

katrosenfield

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Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago

Another brilliant article from Kat Rosenfield.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Coronaphobes provide great comic entertainment, as do so many of the humourless… piss posts extraordinaire!! … I love ’em!

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

CORONAPHOBE!
An excellent addition to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

I have another that describes 99 pc of nu britn, who refuse to make or take decisions, as their only aim in life is to keep their job…. ” Procrasturbators”….

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

Nicky. It would be a bit helpful if we could understand your posts! What or who the hell is ‘nu britn’? I’m a pretty regular reader and poster on UnHerd but I haven’t heard the term before. It doesn’t make any sort of case to rely on clever-sounding neologisms that you have coined but no one else knows!

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

“New Britain”.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

“New Britain”.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

Nicky. It would be a bit helpful if we could understand your posts! What or who the hell is ‘nu britn’? I’m a pretty regular reader and poster on UnHerd but I haven’t heard the term before. It doesn’t make any sort of case to rely on clever-sounding neologisms that you have coined but no one else knows!

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago

It is good, isn’t it!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

I have another that describes 99 pc of nu britn, who refuse to make or take decisions, as their only aim in life is to keep their job…. ” Procrasturbators”….

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago

It is good, isn’t it!

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

CORONAPHOBE!
An excellent addition to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Tony Sandy
Tony Sandy
1 year ago

I remember David Davies chanting ‘Better Together’ when negotiating Brexit, is this what is meant?

Tony Sandy
Tony Sandy
1 year ago

Why no mention of sex because without it there would eventually be no one around to discuss this subject or any other, or is self impregnation with a syringe the new way to go (no personal interaction and only yourself to blame if you do / don’t get pregnant)?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Sandy

I suppose we could rely on artificial insemination and the post….

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Sandy

I suppose we could rely on artificial insemination and the post….

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Coronaphobes provide great comic entertainment, as do so many of the humourless… piss posts extraordinaire!! … I love ’em!

Tony Sandy
Tony Sandy
1 year ago

I remember David Davies chanting ‘Better Together’ when negotiating Brexit, is this what is meant?

Tony Sandy
Tony Sandy
1 year ago

Why no mention of sex because without it there would eventually be no one around to discuss this subject or any other, or is self impregnation with a syringe the new way to go (no personal interaction and only yourself to blame if you do / don’t get pregnant)?

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago

Another brilliant article from Kat Rosenfield.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

An interesting take on the aftermath of covid-induced social isolation, but as someone who needs a fair amount of time alone i’m not sure how pathologising a perfectly normal human trait helps those of us with similar tendencies. I don’t think that’s Kat’s intention btw, just what she describes in the article.

The fact is, i also love socialising, both one to one and also e.g. in a crowded pub or sports event – when i choose to do so. The key here is choice. Kat uses the example of children being encroached upon by adults. It’s fair to say that when adult relatives came to visit at Christmas, as a child i’d go and hide in my room! As an adult doing the visiting now, it makes me hyper-aware of how to interact in a responsible but friendly way with the children of friends and family, especially with a grandchild on the way.

I’ve no problem with those who need constant social interaction, they help make the world go round, but much of the creative activity of our civilisation requires solitude. We should simply live and let live.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

“We should simply live and let live” Lol, funny in this day and age

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

This seems to be a predominately American phenomenon, particularly the exaggerated kissing incident described in the article. When I lived in Europe I had many female friends, but now living in the States, I am far more guarded against women and make sure that I am never alone with one, especially in any kind of professional setting. I think the main difference here is that if you fundamentally disagree with a woman on any issue you are perceived as ‘dangerous’. I tend to see this attitude predominantly among educated white women.
Sorry for the generalizations, I know there are exceptions.

Last edited 1 year ago by Julian Farrows
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I don’t think Rosenfield quite pathologizes introverts themselves, as she is careful to distinguish them from misanthropes. She openly belongs to the in-person socializing set and directs some teasing mockery–not vilification or medicalized-labelling–at those of a solitary disposition.
Yet a human society that leans this heavily upon ‘connected isolation’ along with other types of comfortable reclusiveness is one that has become pathological, or at least greatly destabilized. Would you disagree? Greater acceptance of the less social among us seems like a wholesome development; to suggest that physical-realm sociability is some outmoded relic, or itself a pathology, does not. Not that 2019 was a convivial wonderland, but look where we are now (!).
As someone given to solitude, sometimes of a creative kind, the pandemic era has reminded me that I’m not quite as solitude-loving as I’d imagined when face-to-face, IRL interaction was harder to avoid. For most of us, robust or regular in-person social participation provides a net benefit, for ourselves and to others we don’t offend too much.
Those for whom that’s not true are not therefore ‘freaks’ or whatever insult-of-a-label, but they can’t make much of a society on their own either. No isolated slice nor hacked off slab of the human personality pie (better metaphor pending) can do.

Last edited 1 year ago by AJ Mac
Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

There is definitely a cultural spin to this. I grew up a WASP in the Midwest, where my mother’s family were unabashed huggers, and my father’s were hands off and somewhat reserved. I can count on NO hands the number of times that MY father hugged me or my brother.

However, I have since married a brasileira and moved to Southern Brazil where every gathering of my wife’s large and extended family (including during Covid-19) starts off with those most recently arrived hugging and kissing EACH ONE of those who are already there, and those already there expecting it (and reaching out for it). Older men often throw in a peck on the neck of younger men.

Partly this is because Brazil has so far only mildly been infected with the hyper-identity madness (rights-based assertions of “oppression”), including the me-too movement, but partly the culture.

So Americans (in general) are generally less tactile than Southern Europeans (eg, Portuguese) , but also Americans have gone nuts with all the legal strictures now threatening intimacy itself. We’ll have to see, but it would take a major cultural earthquake to make these Brazilians become as weird as my American heritage seems to be getting.

Last edited 1 year ago by Richard Pearse
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Comment deleted.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
John Dellingby
John Dellingby
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

“We should simply live and let live” Lol, funny in this day and age

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

This seems to be a predominately American phenomenon, particularly the exaggerated kissing incident described in the article. When I lived in Europe I had many female friends, but now living in the States, I am far more guarded against women and make sure that I am never alone with one, especially in any kind of professional setting. I think the main difference here is that if you fundamentally disagree with a woman on any issue you are perceived as ‘dangerous’. I tend to see this attitude predominantly among educated white women.
Sorry for the generalizations, I know there are exceptions.

Last edited 1 year ago by Julian Farrows
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I don’t think Rosenfield quite pathologizes introverts themselves, as she is careful to distinguish them from misanthropes. She openly belongs to the in-person socializing set and directs some teasing mockery–not vilification or medicalized-labelling–at those of a solitary disposition.
Yet a human society that leans this heavily upon ‘connected isolation’ along with other types of comfortable reclusiveness is one that has become pathological, or at least greatly destabilized. Would you disagree? Greater acceptance of the less social among us seems like a wholesome development; to suggest that physical-realm sociability is some outmoded relic, or itself a pathology, does not. Not that 2019 was a convivial wonderland, but look where we are now (!).
As someone given to solitude, sometimes of a creative kind, the pandemic era has reminded me that I’m not quite as solitude-loving as I’d imagined when face-to-face, IRL interaction was harder to avoid. For most of us, robust or regular in-person social participation provides a net benefit, for ourselves and to others we don’t offend too much.
Those for whom that’s not true are not therefore ‘freaks’ or whatever insult-of-a-label, but they can’t make much of a society on their own either. No isolated slice nor hacked off slab of the human personality pie (better metaphor pending) can do.

Last edited 1 year ago by AJ Mac
Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

There is definitely a cultural spin to this. I grew up a WASP in the Midwest, where my mother’s family were unabashed huggers, and my father’s were hands off and somewhat reserved. I can count on NO hands the number of times that MY father hugged me or my brother.

However, I have since married a brasileira and moved to Southern Brazil where every gathering of my wife’s large and extended family (including during Covid-19) starts off with those most recently arrived hugging and kissing EACH ONE of those who are already there, and those already there expecting it (and reaching out for it). Older men often throw in a peck on the neck of younger men.

Partly this is because Brazil has so far only mildly been infected with the hyper-identity madness (rights-based assertions of “oppression”), including the me-too movement, but partly the culture.

So Americans (in general) are generally less tactile than Southern Europeans (eg, Portuguese) , but also Americans have gone nuts with all the legal strictures now threatening intimacy itself. We’ll have to see, but it would take a major cultural earthquake to make these Brazilians become as weird as my American heritage seems to be getting.

Last edited 1 year ago by Richard Pearse
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Comment deleted.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

An interesting take on the aftermath of covid-induced social isolation, but as someone who needs a fair amount of time alone i’m not sure how pathologising a perfectly normal human trait helps those of us with similar tendencies. I don’t think that’s Kat’s intention btw, just what she describes in the article.

The fact is, i also love socialising, both one to one and also e.g. in a crowded pub or sports event – when i choose to do so. The key here is choice. Kat uses the example of children being encroached upon by adults. It’s fair to say that when adult relatives came to visit at Christmas, as a child i’d go and hide in my room! As an adult doing the visiting now, it makes me hyper-aware of how to interact in a responsible but friendly way with the children of friends and family, especially with a grandchild on the way.

I’ve no problem with those who need constant social interaction, they help make the world go round, but much of the creative activity of our civilisation requires solitude. We should simply live and let live.

Lewis Clark
Lewis Clark
1 year ago

This article resonates with me strongly.
It is fair to say that, if you consider there to be a continuum between introversion and extraversion, I would be on the introverted side.
So the very idea of a world with minimised social interaction would have once seemed like heaven.
Now that it has become a reality, it just feels lonely.
Probably the main disappointment is that, more and more, everyone else seems to be insulated in their own online bubbles all day, regardless of whether they are at home, at the office, or socialising. This applies to both the extraverted and the introverted among us (and sure, maybe I am like that sometimes).
It means that there are less ‘chance’ interactions in the real world.
Maybe getting beside the point of the article as well, but I can’t be the only person who has noticed that other people seem to be behaving, mostly unwittingly, in an anti-social way in public (folks with their phone on speaker on public transport being a low level but annoyingly prevalent example).
Maybe the combination of the pandemic and the digitisation of everything has meant that people have forgotten how to get along with each other in real life.

Darlene Craig
Darlene Craig
1 year ago
Reply to  Lewis Clark

thought provoking article. We are all on a continuum of extrovert and introvert, and I’m somewhere in the middle myself. But living online is like a diet of oatmeal – you may not starve but you will be malnourished and unsatisfied (even if you don’t realize it).

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Lewis Clark

I agree and personally connect with your comment. We weren’t exactly getting along with one another all that well in the so-called Before Times, whether in 2017, 1957, or 1917, etc. But the solitary road was once much harder and more life-threatening to walk than it is today.
Convenience or physical ease doesn’t equate to any kind of contentment. We learn to coexist in a more mindful and sociable way through regular practice. Most of us struggle to be considerate and kind versions of ourselves under any circumstances (I’ll certainly admit that myself) and we’re not good at just turning on our hearts and best faces when finally ‘forced’ to be around others in a less-controlled or unmediated environment.
I appreciate the prevailing thoughtfulness and consideration found on many UnHerd comments pages. A general appeal: Please don’t cast all your pearls into the ether, whether you intend them for swine or sages. I’m going for an overdue walk.

Darlene Craig
Darlene Craig
1 year ago
Reply to  Lewis Clark

thought provoking article. We are all on a continuum of extrovert and introvert, and I’m somewhere in the middle myself. But living online is like a diet of oatmeal – you may not starve but you will be malnourished and unsatisfied (even if you don’t realize it).

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Lewis Clark

I agree and personally connect with your comment. We weren’t exactly getting along with one another all that well in the so-called Before Times, whether in 2017, 1957, or 1917, etc. But the solitary road was once much harder and more life-threatening to walk than it is today.
Convenience or physical ease doesn’t equate to any kind of contentment. We learn to coexist in a more mindful and sociable way through regular practice. Most of us struggle to be considerate and kind versions of ourselves under any circumstances (I’ll certainly admit that myself) and we’re not good at just turning on our hearts and best faces when finally ‘forced’ to be around others in a less-controlled or unmediated environment.
I appreciate the prevailing thoughtfulness and consideration found on many UnHerd comments pages. A general appeal: Please don’t cast all your pearls into the ether, whether you intend them for swine or sages. I’m going for an overdue walk.

Lewis Clark
Lewis Clark
1 year ago

This article resonates with me strongly.
It is fair to say that, if you consider there to be a continuum between introversion and extraversion, I would be on the introverted side.
So the very idea of a world with minimised social interaction would have once seemed like heaven.
Now that it has become a reality, it just feels lonely.
Probably the main disappointment is that, more and more, everyone else seems to be insulated in their own online bubbles all day, regardless of whether they are at home, at the office, or socialising. This applies to both the extraverted and the introverted among us (and sure, maybe I am like that sometimes).
It means that there are less ‘chance’ interactions in the real world.
Maybe getting beside the point of the article as well, but I can’t be the only person who has noticed that other people seem to be behaving, mostly unwittingly, in an anti-social way in public (folks with their phone on speaker on public transport being a low level but annoyingly prevalent example).
Maybe the combination of the pandemic and the digitisation of everything has meant that people have forgotten how to get along with each other in real life.

Diane Theobald
Diane Theobald
1 year ago

Some good observations made but I would say all examples reflect a culture of safety first, aggrandised self-importance, the decades-long stealth rise of the notion of rights over responsibilities and, as Kat indeed suggests at one point, a growing estrangement from what it means to be human – faults and all. All socially engineered with the cultivation and amalgamation of structuralism, post-structuralism, new technology and globalism.
Also, introvert neither equals misanthrope nor a wish to be coddled and safe. More prescient, it reflects a bias towards independence and self-agency. I would not say introverts have triumphed, nor would they wish to do so.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago
Reply to  Diane Theobald

Very good point on the definition of introversion. As one myself, I highly value self-reliance and try to avoid dependency on others as much as I can, but that does not mean I do not value human contact at all. I just believe that what matter most are the high quality forms of human contact that come from close friends and family, whose relationships are built up over years.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago
Reply to  Diane Theobald

Very good point on the definition of introversion. As one myself, I highly value self-reliance and try to avoid dependency on others as much as I can, but that does not mean I do not value human contact at all. I just believe that what matter most are the high quality forms of human contact that come from close friends and family, whose relationships are built up over years.

Diane Theobald
Diane Theobald
1 year ago

Some good observations made but I would say all examples reflect a culture of safety first, aggrandised self-importance, the decades-long stealth rise of the notion of rights over responsibilities and, as Kat indeed suggests at one point, a growing estrangement from what it means to be human – faults and all. All socially engineered with the cultivation and amalgamation of structuralism, post-structuralism, new technology and globalism.
Also, introvert neither equals misanthrope nor a wish to be coddled and safe. More prescient, it reflects a bias towards independence and self-agency. I would not say introverts have triumphed, nor would they wish to do so.

Lillian Fry
Lillian Fry
1 year ago

I would just say that spontaneous affection from grandchildren is so much more meaningful than if they are asked by parents to give grandma a hug. That said, covid restrictions have had an impact on spontaneity for sure. And you can’t really fault kids because they’ve often been told that they can make grandma sick and they don’t want to do that.

Lillian Fry
Lillian Fry
1 year ago

I would just say that spontaneous affection from grandchildren is so much more meaningful than if they are asked by parents to give grandma a hug. That said, covid restrictions have had an impact on spontaneity for sure. And you can’t really fault kids because they’ve often been told that they can make grandma sick and they don’t want to do that.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
1 year ago

Sing it with me:
A kiss on the cheek without explicit prior consent is assault, actually,
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend…

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
1 year ago

Sing it with me:
A kiss on the cheek without explicit prior consent is assault, actually,
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend…

Andrew Buckley
Andrew Buckley
1 year ago

Excellent! There are two or three people who insist on puckering up and proffering a cheek when I have to meet them. I no longer need to respond and can simply accuse them of harassment.
Good news.

Andrew Buckley
Andrew Buckley
1 year ago

Excellent! There are two or three people who insist on puckering up and proffering a cheek when I have to meet them. I no longer need to respond and can simply accuse them of harassment.
Good news.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
1 year ago

It’s as if Ms. Rosenfield walks into a room of Woke with a flame thrower and turns their pathetic little positions and sad, weak sensibilities to ash.
When can we all just be practical, real, flawed, decent people again.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
1 year ago

It’s as if Ms. Rosenfield walks into a room of Woke with a flame thrower and turns their pathetic little positions and sad, weak sensibilities to ash.
When can we all just be practical, real, flawed, decent people again.

Jason Highley
Jason Highley
1 year ago

Bravo zulu! Excellent article.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

I didn’t realise that the article was a manoeuvre.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

I didn’t realise that the article was a manoeuvre.

Jason Highley
Jason Highley
1 year ago

Bravo zulu! Excellent article.

Ela Mac
Ela Mac
1 year ago

Enjoyed this article so much have just ordered your book.

Ela Mac
Ela Mac
1 year ago

Enjoyed this article so much have just ordered your book.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago

“have you ever canceled your plans and stayed home on a Saturday night wearing fluffy socks?”
Other than the fluffy socks, absolutely yes. Frequently.
This wonderful blog post sums up why, even before I got married, I was sick to my back teeth of the going out charade – the awful, grinding, shallow, tedium of it – this blog is worth a read:
https://waitbutwhy.com/2014/05/secretly-hate-bars.html

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago

“have you ever canceled your plans and stayed home on a Saturday night wearing fluffy socks?”
Other than the fluffy socks, absolutely yes. Frequently.
This wonderful blog post sums up why, even before I got married, I was sick to my back teeth of the going out charade – the awful, grinding, shallow, tedium of it – this blog is worth a read:
https://waitbutwhy.com/2014/05/secretly-hate-bars.html

Kenda Grant
Kenda Grant
1 year ago

We’ve gotten to the point where – to put on our pants, go into work with other people, to hug – is just too much.. effort. Our covid malaise is now, ironically, embraced by many. Has isolation changed our epigenetics?
Perhaps we need to put together a roving army with “free hugs” signs hanging around their necks. Consent and contact all in one social movement.
Hugs everyone.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

Perhaps an overarching point here we could reflect on is that human beings are fundamentally social animals, whose evolution and dominance on Earth has almost entirely relied on this. All historical and anthropological study backs this up, if for some reason we needed to be convinced of this rather obvious fact. And family (wider and narrower) is always of specific importance, with obligations attached.

Being social beings doesn’t mean that every individual in that society (which will also have a hierarchy) will always like every single interaction asked or demanded of them, any more than that private soldier actually wants to do that patrol at 3 am, or kids always want to go to school or to learn how to hunt deer, or whatever. However, what we all individually might prefer at every point of time cannot always be granted in any society of more than, er.., one person! This is not some sort of minor opt-in /opt-out characteristic.

So this latest ludicrous victimhood cause pathologises behaviour such as the hen-peck without (written?!) consent, which would be held entirely commonplace, and in fact socially, if not legally, obligatory, in almost every human society that has ever existed! Except it seems, the increasingly chilly and fundamentally anti-human ‘woke’ one now, disastrously, emerging in the modern West (but of course ONLY in the West). And actually extreme libertarians get this wrong as well; 99.99% of human beings can’t opt out to a remote log cabin in Montana equipped with a hunting rifle.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

Perhaps an overarching point here we could reflect on is that human beings are fundamentally social animals, whose evolution and dominance on Earth has almost entirely relied on this. All historical and anthropological study backs this up, if for some reason we needed to be convinced of this rather obvious fact. And family (wider and narrower) is always of specific importance, with obligations attached.

Being social beings doesn’t mean that every individual in that society (which will also have a hierarchy) will always like every single interaction asked or demanded of them, any more than that private soldier actually wants to do that patrol at 3 am, or kids always want to go to school or to learn how to hunt deer, or whatever. However, what we all individually might prefer at every point of time cannot always be granted in any society of more than, er.., one person! This is not some sort of minor opt-in /opt-out characteristic.

So this latest ludicrous victimhood cause pathologises behaviour such as the hen-peck without (written?!) consent, which would be held entirely commonplace, and in fact socially, if not legally, obligatory, in almost every human society that has ever existed! Except it seems, the increasingly chilly and fundamentally anti-human ‘woke’ one now, disastrously, emerging in the modern West (but of course ONLY in the West). And actually extreme libertarians get this wrong as well; 99.99% of human beings can’t opt out to a remote log cabin in Montana equipped with a hunting rifle.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Robert Hochbaum
Robert Hochbaum
1 year ago

I agree with most of what Kat says. However, I wish she hadn’t included the Junot Diaz stuff. I went back and looked at some of the links she added and while I can agree that his behavior was fairly benign if limited to the sphere of ‘sexual assault’, it reads like he could be quite an a$%^ole at times. No man has the right to be out there fishing for a sexual encounters by kissing away at random. That’s creepy. He should be able to tell that there is no chemistry. His inability to pick up on a lack of chemistry doesn’t give him a pass. Especially if the women are involved with him in some subordinate way such as teacher/student or mentor/mentee, etc. It really did not belong in there with the grandma stuff. Totally different issues. I’m surprised she included it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Robert Hochbaum
Robert Hochbaum
Robert Hochbaum
1 year ago

I agree with most of what Kat says. However, I wish she hadn’t included the Junot Diaz stuff. I went back and looked at some of the links she added and while I can agree that his behavior was fairly benign if limited to the sphere of ‘sexual assault’, it reads like he could be quite an a$%^ole at times. No man has the right to be out there fishing for a sexual encounters by kissing away at random. That’s creepy. He should be able to tell that there is no chemistry. His inability to pick up on a lack of chemistry doesn’t give him a pass. Especially if the women are involved with him in some subordinate way such as teacher/student or mentor/mentee, etc. It really did not belong in there with the grandma stuff. Totally different issues. I’m surprised she included it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Robert Hochbaum
Chris W
Chris W
1 year ago

This is a long, meandering article which argues that our (imposed) behaviour during Covid has made us more introverted. Well, OK, is that such a bad thing? Does introverted=bad?
I have another story. I was brought up as an only child with almost no other family. We didn’t have visitors, except one aunt at Christmas. We didn’t touch and we certainly didn’t hug. Much later I got married and my new wife’s family was huge. Every time there was a visit, we had the hugging scenes at the end. Guess what -I didn’t like it. I still don’t like it.
I don’t see the point in hugging someone you only saw yesterday or the day before. It is just a habit, with no meaning. In fact, it takes away meaning because if you see someone you haven’t seen for ten years, then you hug and it really means something.
By the way, even my wife’s family would not go and kiss a relative stranger on the cheek. That is disgusting.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

Someone told me they always hug family members on departing because they can never be sure they’ll see them again,

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

For some reason, I clicked upward but the number went down. For the record, therefore, I agree with you and can’t figure out why seventeen other people think that you wrote something horrible.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Sometimes the counter is a bit slow – why not try ‘clicking’ your correct choice. Some newsgroups allow you to change your mind/correct a slip-up.[on Edit] I’ve just tried it on Chris W’s article. You can change you mind on Unherd.

Last edited 1 year ago by Doug Pingel
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Agreed. He’s clearly been assailed by a bunch of hugnazis.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Sometimes the counter is a bit slow – why not try ‘clicking’ your correct choice. Some newsgroups allow you to change your mind/correct a slip-up.[on Edit] I’ve just tried it on Chris W’s article. You can change you mind on Unherd.

Last edited 1 year ago by Doug Pingel
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Agreed. He’s clearly been assailed by a bunch of hugnazis.

Garrett R
Garrett R
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

You aren’t alone. I too struggle with social norms. Don’t get me started on why we must send Christmas cards to family I haven’t seen in over a decade.

Kenda Grant
Kenda Grant
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

That’s all well and good – for you. But clearly your wife’s family enjoys it. When in Rome? I know there are people who don’t like to be touched including people on the spectrum, however it’s interesting that “pressure” (i.e. a weighted blanket, or Temple Grandin’s Squeeze Machine) help to relieves stress and anxiety for many who don’t like to be “touched”. I’ve met some great huggers in my day – the perfect squeeze, the perfect length of time, and it is indeed comforting. In your case it sounds like a combination of “nature” and “nurture”. Perhaps changing your certainty that frequency takes away meaning, and consider that each hug, each human contact, is important for the love, companionship and comfort it can convey. Or you could just extend your hand.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

Respect and acceptance–or the lack thereof–run in both directions. Kissing an acquaintance on the cheek may disgust you, but it is not factually, objectively disgusting. As someone with mostly Celtic and middle-American roots, I find routine ‘touchy-feely-ness’ uncomfortable myself, but would resist calling it wrong or disgusting based on my conditioning or feelings.
Most people need a measure of physical human contact and, for them, an even more fractured and isolated society is indeed ‘a bad thing’ if they’re not able to find the level of socializing and touch that suits them as individuals. They could be extroverts being made to live like introverts, for not every social animal has great power to win friends and influence people, especially in an ever-more-solitary culture. A contented loner who feels forced to gladhand and gab it up it left and right will also suffer. It needn’t become a moral issue–from either direction.
Has our heightened emphasis on personal liberty made us even more moralistic? Have we substituted widespread blind faith for widespread inability to believe in anything outside our own heads? If so, I doubt that’s what John Stuart Mill had in mind.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

Someone told me they always hug family members on departing because they can never be sure they’ll see them again,

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

For some reason, I clicked upward but the number went down. For the record, therefore, I agree with you and can’t figure out why seventeen other people think that you wrote something horrible.

Garrett R
Garrett R
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

You aren’t alone. I too struggle with social norms. Don’t get me started on why we must send Christmas cards to family I haven’t seen in over a decade.

Kenda Grant
Kenda Grant
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

That’s all well and good – for you. But clearly your wife’s family enjoys it. When in Rome? I know there are people who don’t like to be touched including people on the spectrum, however it’s interesting that “pressure” (i.e. a weighted blanket, or Temple Grandin’s Squeeze Machine) help to relieves stress and anxiety for many who don’t like to be “touched”. I’ve met some great huggers in my day – the perfect squeeze, the perfect length of time, and it is indeed comforting. In your case it sounds like a combination of “nature” and “nurture”. Perhaps changing your certainty that frequency takes away meaning, and consider that each hug, each human contact, is important for the love, companionship and comfort it can convey. Or you could just extend your hand.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

Respect and acceptance–or the lack thereof–run in both directions. Kissing an acquaintance on the cheek may disgust you, but it is not factually, objectively disgusting. As someone with mostly Celtic and middle-American roots, I find routine ‘touchy-feely-ness’ uncomfortable myself, but would resist calling it wrong or disgusting based on my conditioning or feelings.
Most people need a measure of physical human contact and, for them, an even more fractured and isolated society is indeed ‘a bad thing’ if they’re not able to find the level of socializing and touch that suits them as individuals. They could be extroverts being made to live like introverts, for not every social animal has great power to win friends and influence people, especially in an ever-more-solitary culture. A contented loner who feels forced to gladhand and gab it up it left and right will also suffer. It needn’t become a moral issue–from either direction.
Has our heightened emphasis on personal liberty made us even more moralistic? Have we substituted widespread blind faith for widespread inability to believe in anything outside our own heads? If so, I doubt that’s what John Stuart Mill had in mind.

Chris W
Chris W
1 year ago

This is a long, meandering article which argues that our (imposed) behaviour during Covid has made us more introverted. Well, OK, is that such a bad thing? Does introverted=bad?
I have another story. I was brought up as an only child with almost no other family. We didn’t have visitors, except one aunt at Christmas. We didn’t touch and we certainly didn’t hug. Much later I got married and my new wife’s family was huge. Every time there was a visit, we had the hugging scenes at the end. Guess what -I didn’t like it. I still don’t like it.
I don’t see the point in hugging someone you only saw yesterday or the day before. It is just a habit, with no meaning. In fact, it takes away meaning because if you see someone you haven’t seen for ten years, then you hug and it really means something.
By the way, even my wife’s family would not go and kiss a relative stranger on the cheek. That is disgusting.