It’s almost surreal. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we’ve almost forgotten what social distancing is, face masks are rarely seen and life is mostly back to normal.
Sure, there’s reminders of COVID days: Perspex screens remain at almost every checkout; a few shops display a QR code for scanning into the official COVID tracer app (but not enough to make use of the app meaningful); foreign visitors are conspicuous by their absence; and the Director General of Health still gives daily live updates on TV.
Other subtle changes like extra flexibility in the workplace and changes in advertising to promote domestic tourism and “buy local” may well become permanent fixtures.
Many ads that have used the allure of status, ego, excitement, adventure, one upmanship, or perfection to promote products have been replaced with ones where product promotion seems to be secondary to messages promoting kindness, empathy, sharing and similar sentiments. I doubt this will be a permanent feature, even though I would like them to continue.
For myself personally, the pandemic has given me the opportunity to attend Quaker worship on a more regular basis through the platform of Zoom – something that may never have been considered had COVID-19 not arrived.
Geographically, Aotearoa New Zealand is indeed isolated from the rest of the world, and we have compensated by being one of the world’s most prolific international travellers. The Big OE (Overseas Experience) has almost become a rite of passage into adulthood and responsibility for young Kiwis.
On the whole life here is back to normal, but I and many other Kiwis are beginning to feel that the metaphor of us being a bubble of 5 million is taking on an ominous reality.
Our borders are closed, and may well remain that way for years. Social unrest across the world, and particularly in America, is played out daily in news broadcasts. In some sections of the community, antagonism towards returning Kiwis is replacing antagonism towards immigrants.
There are now two worlds: A safe kind Aotearoa, and an increasingly hostile world “out there” where the Trumps of that world would like nothing better than to see our bubble fail if only to make themselves look less ridiculous. That may be an exaggerated metaphor at the moment, but the trend is definitely there.
Usually I’m blind to growth and changes in social mood and prejudice, but the trend towards isolationism, a “them and us” attitude, I find unsettling. In the long term it’s unhealthy, especially for a small nation that has placed a heavy reliance on international cooperation in the course of its development.
The optimism and excitement that existed and I experienced as a teenager and young adult in the 1960s and 1970s has been replaced by something darker, at times almost sinister, at least in the eyes this child of the ’60s social revolution.
I hope I’m wrong, but my once enthusiastic optimism is now tempered with a little more caution and realism. Perhaps I am a child of another era and I’m mistaken in thinking the current generation is more conservative, serious, sombre and pessimistic than the one I have been immersed in all my life. But I have my doubts.