Caroline O'Donoghue: Four ways the lockdown is changing people for the better

The evidence is everywhere.
Caroline O'Donoghue: Four ways the lockdown is changing people for the better

We've heard a lot about how the pandemic is forcing so many businesses to rethink the way they operate. I have read a frankly disturbing amount of press from billionaires who, post travel ban, are “really questioning whether flying around the world for a meeting is worth it, when so much can be accomplished on Zoom”.

Everytime I see one of these I want to hurl myself at an oil painting with a knife and slash downwards. Here I am, feeling guilty about flying between Cork and London a half-dozen times a year, worrying about what it’s doing to my carbon footprint — and here you were, flying to New York for an hour long business meeting?

Businesses are going cashless, delis are pivoting to delivery, bars are doing takeaway windows; everyone’s changing the way they operate in ways they never considered.

And the same goes, unsurprisingly, for people. This has now been going on long enough for it to change who we are substantially. And I don’t just mean that we’ll think twice about shaking hands or going to the cinema.

This will dissolve into the marrow of us, and make us think differently about how we see the world, and how we see ourselves.

The evidence is everywhere.

1. Cynical friends who had sworn off romance are mooning around, getting dressed up for Zoom dates and texting total strangers like they’re teenagers on MSN.

The dating apps, they tell me, have softened considerably. What was once a jungle that you had to machete your way through in order to get a date has now become a rolodex of sweet people who are ready to put their hearts on their sleeves.

“It’s really a time for nerds to prosper,” says one friend, gleefully. The excruciatingly hot people have ruled the roost of online dating for too long, managing to get by on a ‘u up?’ and an address you can copy into your Uber order.

We are now at the end of hookup culture, and at the dawn of a new one: where nerds, who have honed their small talk, their hobbies, and their references to extremely nuanced bits of pop culture over many, many years, are prospering.

People who have never met are sending one another silly songs and videos of themselves in the bath with beard bubbles. ‘U up?’ won’t cut it anymore, and the merely attractive are edging out the extremely hot, day by day.

2. I am, obviously, not on the dating apps, but I’m still noticing small changes in my behaviour.

A few weeks ago, while playing my Nintendo Switch, I noticed that the character on my screen kept drifting to the left, walking off cliffs when they’re supposed to be murdering trolls. After some online reading, I learned that the joystick was faulty, and needed to be replaced. After even more reading, I learned that Nintendo have closed their repairs workshop.

I now had two choices: wait until Nintendo re-opened, or fix it myself. I was fairly deep into Zelda at this point, so I decided on the latter. I bought a kit online, I followed a Youtube tutorial, and within an hour I had opened up my controller and replaced the joystick, carefully tweezing and screwing in the various parts like a jeweller.

When I was done, I couldn’t believe it. I had never done any form of DIY in my life, and had tricked myself into believing that I was the sufferer of a bone-deep uselessness. A terminal case of having no practical skills.

3. Fixing my own games console left me flummoxed, exhausted by the new possibilities. What else am I able to do? What else have I been able to do this whole time, but had convinced myself I couldn’t?

Which brings me, rather neatly, onto my bicycle. My boyfriend bought me a bike for my 30th birthday, and the moment I sat on it, I said: “Is it OK if I only ever cycle when we’re together?” He said yes.

I have wanted a bike for years, but have been too terrified by road cycling in London to ever buy one. We cycled every day over the May Bank Holiday, and by Tuesday, I was desperate for more. He couldn’t go, so I decided to go out by myself.

I was terrified. My back was coated in anxiety sweat, and my wrists trembled the entire time. I was convinced I was going to have an accident. Even as a small kid, my parents used to despair that I was the kind of dreamy idiot that would wander off the footpath and into oncoming traffic, puffer jacket around my elbows.

They had good reason to worry: I did, after all, wander into traffic. But somehow I had swallowed the dreamy idiot idea as being an immutable adult truth, something I couldn’t change no matter how hard I tried. After an hour or so, I realised that I wasn’t going to suddenly veer into a lorry, and that I was perfectly capable of stopping at a red light. That actually, there wasn’t anything more complicated about road cycling then that.

4. Really, things aren’t as complicated or as difficult as you tell yourself they are. You are not as useless as you think you are. And as more and more of us find less and less ways to outsource the difficult jobs, maybe we’ll all become a little less fearful in the process.

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