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

The short-term outburst of the fear of COVID-19 may have receded. Even though the number of infectants are still rising, the number of deaths caused by it are substantially stabilized and subdued. Increasing number of society no longer overreact to the virus and are accustomed to take sensible measures to avoid infection in the everyday life.

There is, however, a looming longer-term consequence which may cause a larger calamity than the direct impact of the disease.

It is the emergence of a “lost generation” who, in the most active part of their life, has been forced to be confined and kept separate each other in accordance with the regulations and restrictions in the “new normal” and losing the opportunity to accumulate social capital.

In the age of social distancing, the hardest-hit of all is the younger generation in the initial stage of their carreer. Online virtual social networking may seem to be beneficial for the social media savvy younger generations. Actually, it is not.

Many alternative means and platforms for business in networking and information sharing are mushrooming in the virtual space. Most of them are accepted and utilized by the matured professionals who can take advantage of their existing social capital and benefit from this exodus to the virtual online space. They can efficiently combine real and virtual human relations and multiply it while a cohort of young professionals who have newly entered the job market are kept in limbo and left outside of the network.

Those new cohort of professionals or the students enrolled in graduate schools are shut up from the valuable information and know-hows which have been transmitted through intimate conversations in the off-line human relationship.

Contacts and relationships in the virtual space complement and enhance the real-world human relationships and, in the prolonged period of time under COVID-19 restrictions, a generation is about to lose this valuable experience. 

Under such conditions, only sons and daughters of the privileged few who can inherit existing social relationships and valuable knowledge from their parents and relatives and easily enter the social networks to prosper, outwitting the helpless young people of the same generation.

If so, COVID-19 restrictions will further strengthen the already deep divisions of hierarchical society.

Not only we are divided and separated physically in each own’s homes, we will be divided by social classes and generations.

Although as a virus and diseases it causes, COVID-19 may not be as deadly as initially expected, it’s social impact will be more ferocious, leaving permanent cracks and fault-lines between social classes and generations.