Physical Distancing and Social Intimacy

Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, University of Tokyo

Globalization ground to a halt.

The red carpet of the global mobility, which once enticed people all over the world to long distance travels, was suddenly rolled back, to the point at start of the modern era, or even before that. World is divided more than any time we could remember.

Countries are shutting the door in the face of each other in the fear of coronavirus transmissions by foreign visitors.

Each country requested overseas citizens to call off the stay and come back, before it became impossible. People obeyed. Abruptly ending each of their tasks, tourism, business, study abroad, international conference etc. and frantically searched for flights which were not yet cancelled and brought them to the home countries before the entry would be completely rejected.

It was as if countries were taking roll call of the citizens. The long-neglected nation state has now resurfaced and regained control of the citizens.

There is, however, no enthusiasm of nationalism.

Within each nation, people are divided. Cities are locked down, people’s movement between cities are restricted, shopping malls are closed, and public assemblies are cancelled.

People are forcefully requested to avoid contacts with each other. People’s connection and ties, usually the source of strength of human community, are now deemed to be risky in avoiding the transmission of the coronavirus.

The act of talking and openly discussing with each other, the fundamental source of civility of human community, is the most threatening act in the Corona era. People are instructed to shut the mouths and be silent to avoid the risks of infection to be increased.

Even families are high among the list of the risks. Corona is breaking the basic ties of human beings and locks them apart. People are forcefully confined to the small cells of themselves. It’s a predicament of an unprecedented nature.

Where is the exit?

The key is found in the creative use of ICTs.

Since the virus started to spread, the “social distancing” has been widely advocated. However, as WHO experts recommend, “physical distancing” is the more proper use of the word.

To survive the corona age, the physical distance has to be kept while strengthening the ties of the society. During the discussions with my colleagues in the high-tech sector, a researcher on virtual reality (VR) adovocated the mediated realization of “social intimacy.”

In view of the fatality rate, it seems certain that humanity will not extinct for this epidemic. For those who survive, the urgent task is to find a way to maintain and enhance social intimacy through the information and communication technologies.