March 30, 2020 § Leave a comment

Social distancing is a catchy phrase.  The distancing part is easily understood.  However, the implication is that all communication requiring bodily closeness is driven by social triggers.  This is not necessarily the case.  Business transactions entail close contact, especially in the west.  The shaking of hands, the exchanging of pleasantries and the ice breaker along the lines of “so, how ‘bout them Sox” (that particular line will be shelved for 2020, it seems, which is likely all to the good for the red variety of Sox, what with overpaying for injured stars and all), all require close bodily distance, the most egregious, under the circumstances, being the hand shake.

Today, in most places in the world, “shelter at home” orders discourage interaction based primarily on social objectives.  Sanctioned are trips, albeit careful ones, to the grocery stores, gas stations, hardware stores, pharmacies and curbside pickup of food at restaurants.  All these demand a measure of bodily proximity, which can easily be managed to minimize distance between individuals.  Shown below is an image from India, where the shopkeeper is taking steps.  Note the appropriation of a portion of the road!

Source: bangka.tribunnews.com retrieved March 30, 2020

Our farmers market in Carrboro, NC, did not go to these lengths.  But they separated the individual farmers by about three times the usual separation, instituted one-way pedestrian traffic (super decision whose value is immediately obvious: distancing is harder in cross flow), instructed all farmers on protection measures including produce handled only by glove equipped farmers* and dictated inter-customer distance, with roving enforcers.  Note, however, this was business distancing, not social, in the main.  The non-buying, chatting customer holding up the line last Saturday, comes to mind.  But, all good, nobody had anywhere to go anyway.

Social interaction, on the other hand, being expressly forbidden in person, has found avenues, new to some.  This is important.  Social connectivity may be more critical than ever.  Uncertainty is rife due to lack of information, poor information and information with agendas.  Just discussing with someone helps, especially if one lives alone.  All of us ought to be resolved to connect with someone each day.  Technology helps, but simple phone calls may work better for some.  Zoom parties are fully in play, as are virtual baby showers, birthdays and all manner of celebrations.  They may never replace the real deals, but then again, there is that chance.  Nothing substitutes for the warmth of direct personal contact (when permitted).  Hopefully, virtual social contact will be the exception in normal times.

Certainly, if Zoom (used generically here, take your pick on Skype, BlueJeans or any other) meetings prove effective even in business settings, two outcomes may outlive the emergency.  One is the increased appetite for remote workplaces.  This is already a trend, but the effectiveness could expand this, especially to businesses that did not already use the option.

The other is a decreased need to travel for meetings.  This last has always been on the cards with the ever-increasing sophistication in information technology.  But there is nothing quite like an extended “pilot test” to drive home the value.  Airlines and hotels will be the losers if this sticks.  Global warming could be a winner here, but only if the shift is large scale (aircraft have fewer options on fuel substitution than do automobiles). On the home front, the forced pilot test could make some couples realize that they were not as compatible as they believed.  Pervasive uncertainty and the need to make coordinated decisions will not help with frayed tempers.  Wiser counsel, or just another ear, would help.  This returns us to the need for social network access.  The opposite of social distancing, but without physical proximity.

India Prime Minister Modi recently made note of the distinction in his radio program Mann ki Baat, which loosely translates from the Hindi into “Something to think about”.  He referred to “increasing social distancing but reducing emotional distancing.”  Take your pick on alternatives to “social distancing”.  My Aussie nephew’s suggestion is “physical distancing”.

Vikram Rao

*You can’t touch this from “U can’t touch this” performed by MC Hammer 1990, written by MC Hammer (Stanley Burrell), Rick James and Alonzo Miller


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You are currently reading WE MUST RENAME “SOCIAL DISTANCING” at Research Triangle Energy Consortium.


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