Quaran-Teens 2020: Our Constantly Evolving Society

Quaran-Teens 2020: Our Constantly Evolving Society

[The following students are high school seniors at “KTH School” taking International Baccalaureate Social and Cultural Anthropology. After their final IB exams were cancelled, they decided they would like to do an auto-ethnography of their life in coronavirus quarantine. They have collected data for three weeks (including photographs, screenshots of social media and virtual school, interviews, and personal reflections) and written anthropological analyses focused on different terms (communication, society, belonging, materiality, classification, the body, health, and conflict).]

By Drew Culbreath, Ved Dalal, and Lucas Feliz

Our pandemic ethnography explores how various aspects of society have changed over time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The investigation focuses on personal data we have collected and analyzed from our daily lives in quarantine.

Societal Communication Changes

Communication methods have drastically changed my usual work routine since the beginning of the pandemic quarantine period which has caused me to adapt to a new normal. Communication can be defined as the imparting or exchanging of information or knowledge which utilizes some form of language. Language is a method of human communication which is conveyed through a system of symbols used in various ways to represent and communicate ideas verbally and nonverbally. Language is a human universal experience and is essential for human survival and culture

Figure 1 (Personal Image, 04/21/20): The photograph is a screenshot of my personal FaceTime log with fellow students and teachers on the digital communications FaceTime platform.

because language allows cultural knowledge to be passed from one generation to the next. On a personal interaction level, my communications with fellow students and teachers have been significantly altered. Before the pandemic, I interacted with these acquaintances by seeing them in class each day, speaking with them in the hallways, and scheduling zero hour or after school meetings to go over assignments. However, now that a mandatory stay at home order is in place in my community, all of these boundaries, or physical and imagined differences between groups and individuals, have shifted. Common communication methods have become emailing, chatting in Microsoft Teams, and video chats in Microsoft Teams, WebEx, and Zoom. I have included two visual anthropology screenshots of my chat log from both the Microsoft Teams and FaceTime platforms as examples to demonstrate the interface and impersonal nature of the digital chats. With regard to ethical concerns and consent, given permission by individuals, I did not ascertain the proper consent of each individual pictured in the chats, so I decided to anonymize their profile pictures, names, and any visible information that could reveal my sources. These digital relations allow everyone to continue to interact with each other, but the remote, estranged method is certainly different than in-person interactions. The homework assignments have also changed because collaborative assignments have become few and far between due to the necessary scheduling rigors that have to perfectly align. Also, instead of turning paper assignments into teachers by our individual scheduled class periods with them, we students must submit all of our files digitally by midnight of the due date. The technological example further proves the universal truth that humans have always utilized technology to shape the world around them and to create boundaries between themselves and other entities.

Figure 2 (Personal Image, 04/15/20): The photograph is a screenshot of my personal chat log with fellow students and teachers on the digital communications Microsoft Teams platform.

The dramatic change in boundaries has certainly come with some execution problems. Such instances include people not having the knowledge of how to operate the needed technology, assignments being accidently scheduled on different days than are due, and meeting times overlapping with one another. However, I feel that we, as an educational community, have been able to adapt to these changes positively as a whole and have been able to lift one another’s spirits in our efforts to stand together and survive. The changes in communication I observed demonstrate how humans, as a society, are able to implement large scale survival adaptations when necessary in order to survive. I also believe that through a dependence on technology and digital social media platforms, humans in our society have been able to attain a sense of normalcy in their lives by continuing to pursue their work, interests, and social interactions which existed before the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

Societal Conventions

As a result of the intensity of the COVID-19 virus, people within the United States have become closer, kinder, and more generous with each other as we all band together in an attempt to survive and bring an end to the spreading of the virus. Reflexivity can be defined as the ability to stand back and assess aspects of one’s own behavior, society, and culture. I will be practicing reflexivity as I dive into an example that more directly relates to the virus itself is with the case of a distant relative who was recently diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus. For the purpose of ethical consent, because I cannot personally contact my relative to obtain consent to use his/her name in my observation account, I have instead chosen to abbreviate the name of my studied participant to “Dr. B.” so that his/her privacy is respected by removing any identifying details that would reveal Dr. B.’s true identity. Dr. B. is a 75-year-old dentist in Long Island, New York who was recently diagnosed with B cell lymphoma. As a result of this diagnosis, Dr. B. had to be rushed to a hospital in New York. New York is of course one of the most impacted areas by the coronavirus within the United States (Bryner). Due to coronavirus precautions, Dr. B.’s wife and daughters are not allowed to visit him in the hospital.

Figure 3 (Personal Image, 04/23/20): The photograph, with the observed person’s face cropped out for anonymization purposes, illustrates how my family attempted to contact Dr. B. by phone in order to communicate with him and check on his health and well-being.

Instead, their best method of communication is to call him frequently on his cell phone. Due to the dramatically changing circumstances surrounding the pandemic, social interaction has become largely digital as people are having to find nonphysical methods of communication. Yet, in Dr. B.’s case, when he was rushed to the hospital, he forgot to take his phone charger. Through the kindness and sense of “communitas”, which is group solidarity Turner (1969), Dr. B. was able to use the phone chargers and actual, personal phones of several nurses at the hospital in order to contact his family. The cell phone example illustrates the universal truth that humans rely on technological advancements in order to survive and thrive in our constantly adapting world. Through the trauma and extreme measures brought about by coronavirus, citizens within the United States have been able to pull together as a society and change our perspectives. Our perception of materiality and generosity has shifted tremendously for the better in an effort to unite together and combat the coronavirus.

Shifting Societal Boundaries

Figure 4 (Personal Photograph, 04/23/20): The photograph is an example of the #AloneTogether campaign, here on a video advertisement, by Viacom CBS in an effort to propagandize the idea that even though we are isolated from each other, we are connected in solidarity through our separation.

Even though everyone is having to undergo social distancing in order to remain safe and healthy during the spread of COVID-19, we are connected through our shared experiences of isolation. Our normal boundaries, which can be defined as the physical and imagined differences between groups and individuals, have drastically altered in a short amount of time. Instead of interacting with people physically on a day to day basis, we are now having to stay at least six feet apart from one another in addition to formalized shelter in place and stay at home mandates that are being regulated by local, state, and federal governments. Such precautions are vital for ensuring our health and flattening the curve; however, these measures can lead to people feeling lonely and depressed due to the lack of social interaction. When watching television, I noticed that there was a series of advertisements on CBS in which celebrities were promoting social distancing and were explaining that even though we have to separate from one another we are all actually #AloneTogether. I have included a visual anthropology example, the study of visual representation of ethnographic data, displaying the social media instance. The example demonstrated to me that there is group solidarity within the act of isolating together.

Figure 5 (Personal Photograph, 04/23/20): The visual data is a screenshot of a Snap Chat feed. The example demonstrates how some students are remaining in touch socially and are communicating with friends.

I then conducted further research into the advertisement campaign and learned that Viacom CBS and the Ad Council partnered together to create a series of advertisements with the purpose of educating audiences about the importance of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. The campaign features self-shot videos and live video takeovers from celebrities sharing their own personal experiences and advice about how they are handling the pandemic and social distancing situations. The ads are intended to encourage viewers to stay at home and comfort them to find connections with other people through entertainment (Poggi). A focus on mental health during the outbreak is a key part of the effort, emphasizing that social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. When analyzing the campaign from an anthropological point of view, I realized that Victor Turner’s (1969) theory of liminality and communitas applies. Turner theorized that “liminality” describes a state of being outside of normal space and time. He states that such individuals are betwixt and between the normal roles, behaviors, and position assigned by law, custom, and convention. Liminality applies to the social distancing aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic because we, as humans, are not outside in the physical world experiencing our normal everyday routines. Instead, we are having to wear protective gear, adjust our work schedules, and alter our methods of communication with associates, friends, and loved ones. We are in an in between state because while we are not completely cut off from the world and reality, our capacity to interact with others is significantly diminished and can only be repaired as we wait out the storm that is the spreading of the coronavirus. Turner also argues that during the liminal stage, a special bond is formed between initiates, which he named “communitas”. Among participants, he noted that there is often complete equality. These friendships go beyond differences of rank, age, kinship position, and even gender. All participants in the ritual are supposed to be linked by special ties that continue after the rites are over, even into old age (Turner). Examples of such equality and togetherness mentality are currently heavily present in society. From people celebrating members of the medical community who are on the frontlines of the virus with supportive chants and cheers at specific times each evening, to members of apartment buildings posting their offers to help at risk neighbors with any necessary grocery or outing occasions, to Matthew McConaughey hosting a video call bingo game for residents of an elderly assisted living community (Capozzi, Lewis, and Shoard). There is the idea that we, as humans all experiencing the same precautionary measures, pain, and suffering from the coronavirus, are bonded together through our shared emotions and experiences, or communitas. Since these initial shared bonds were created at the start of the pandemic, our sense of community has only intensified with similarities and parallels among people’s lives becoming more present each day. By latching onto our shared experiences of communitas in this liminal state, we have come together as a community and created a new shared pandemic and isolation culture.

Works Cited

Bryner, Jeanna. “New York: Latest Updates on Coronavirus.” Live Science, Future U.S., Inc., 17 Apr. 2020, www.livescience.com/coronavirus-new-york.html. Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.

Capozzi, Joe. “If it’s 8 p.m., it’s time to say thanks: Neighbors applaud medical workers fighting coronavirus.” USA Today, USA Today, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/04/01/coronavirus-florida-neighbors-applaud-medical-workers-every-night/5101941002/. Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.

“Matthew McConaughey hosts virtual bingo night with isolated senior citizens in Texas.” NME, edited by Ella Kemp, BandLab Technologies, 7 Apr. 2020, www.nme.com/en_au/news/film/matthew-mcconaughey-texas-bingo-night-isolation-2642880. Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.

Lewis, Sean. “‘Please do not hesitate to come up and knock’: Man offers to help neighbors with heartwarming note.” WGN9, Nexstar Broadcasting, 14 Mar. 2020, wgntv.com/news/coronavirus/please-do-not-hesitate-to-come-up-and-knock-man-offers-to-help-neighbors-with-heartwarming-note-2/. Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.

Poggi, Jeanine. “Viacom CBS Promotes Being “Alone Together” in COVID-19 PSA.” AdAge, AdAge, 17 Mar. 2020, adage.com/creativity/work/viacomcbs-alone-together/2244816. Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.

Pountney, Laura, and Tomislav Maric. Introducing Anthropology. Polity Press, 2015. Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.

Shoard, Catherine. “Matthew McConaughey hosts bingo night for elderly isolating Texans.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 7 Apr. 2020, www.msn.com/en-ca/entertainment/other/matthew-mcconaughey-hosts-bingo-night-for-elderly-isolating-texans/ar-BB12gSks. Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.

Turner, Victor. The Ritual Process. Chicago, Aldine Publishing, 1969, pp. 94-113. Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.

Vogel, Emily. Creating Unity Through the #AloneTogether Campaign. 2020, sg.style.yahoo.com/creating-unity-alonetogether-campaign-sponsored-182144493.html. Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.

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