Phygital Distancing, not Social Distancing

It’s been 13 months since the WHO officially declared the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as a pandemic. Since then, billions have WOKE up to this new normal. Those in the West have joined their counterparts in the East to don a mask, maybe even double masks, wash their hands longer and more often, and walking around with a virtual 2m pole to distance from others. Alas, there are those who have yet to embrace the 4 W’s of hygiene: Wear a mask, Wash your hands, Watch your distance, Wear another mask over the other mask. And don’t forget the VV: two doses of Vaccines (unless it’s the J&J, then just one Jab).

In addition to terms such as pivot, unprecedented, fatigue, and efficacy, the phrase “social distancing” was popularized by public health officials. The medical notion of “social distancing” is to maintain a safe or appropriate distance from other people with the intent to mitigate the spread of contagion. From a sociology perspective, “social distancing” is the extent to which people or groups of people are removed from one another’s lives, socially, relationally, not necessarily physically.

This phrase is still vogue 13 months later, although prudent people have resorted to the phrase “physical distancing.” Incidentally, soon after declaring the pandemic, the WHO tried to ditch the phrase “social distancing” and to pitch “physical distancing.” In its updated post, the CDC indicates that social distancing is also called “physical distancing” meaning to maintain “a safe space between yourself and other people who are not from your household.” We are not to just stay at arm’s length but at least TWO arms’ length away. Canada’s public health shares the same refrain: “we can slow the spread of COVID-19 by making a conscious effort to keep a physical distance between each other” which has proven to be an effective way to slow the spread.

At its core, “social distance” is the degree of acceptance or rejection of social interaction between people belonging to different social groups such as ethnicity, language and culture. In follow-up posts, I will address social distance in the context of cultural diversity and fluency. FWIW, I suggest that we use the correct phrase to stay at a distance, i.e., physical distancing.

Meanwhile, in our highly network-connected world, we can leverage hi-tech to supplement hi-touch. Albeit we need to physically distance we can still socialize in-person (for short periods) onsite at a distance and online remotely. We can’t hug but we can wave. We can have face-to-face time, but not cheek-to-cheek.

As we ride out the P-waves, let’s not social distance and disengage from others at the social level. Rather let’s spur one another toward love and good deeds, encourage one another and not give up meeting … be it physically at a distance or phygitally.

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