This afternoon, I was reading my Wall Street Journal from a few days ago (I still take the old-fashioned print edition, and I am always behind), and I noticed more than one article that, taken together, got me to thinking some very uncomfortable thoughts.
I have read more than one article describing the “new office”, brought about by the Wuhan Coronavirus. Most big offices in large cities were shut down by government decree in March and April, resulting in thousands of workers being laid off, furloughed, or directed to work from home to avoid contagion. With some offices now allowed to reopen, companies are having to totally rethink their office layouts, so their employees can be “kept safe”. The bolded chapter heading is “Distancing and Cleanliness”. In the office of the very near future (like tomorrow), “Among the first priorities is figuring out how to maintain social distancing in an office.” Software applications will now govern where and how employees interact. Meetings will be smaller and less frequent, and employee desks will be further apart [thus cutting down on employee interaction]; “density sensors” may prevent too many employees in any one room at a time; all surfaces will be obsessively cleaned all day every day.
In the new office building, elevators will not be allowed to hold more than two people, and all the buttons will either be gone or changed to some kind of “no-touch” technology. Many will still work from home, and their colleagues in the office will hold Zoom meetings when they need to be in a group discussion. A researcher at the Interdisciplinary Center for Healthy Workplaces at UC Berkeley advises “bringing employees together virtually now to share ideas on how to re-establish social bonds while maintaining social distancing.”[italics mine]
Then, there’s the article on the New Hospital. The ideas in that article are extremely depressing to me. The title is “Rethinking the Hospital for the Next Pandemic”. Here are some phrases from that article. What does this make you think?
A future where such crises [the Wuhan Coronavirus Pandemic] may become a grim fact of life.
These changes promise to markedly reduce risk and disease spread-and change the way people experience care even in times when there is no crisis.
…it will also become less hands-on than people have come to expect.
…come up with ways to keep patients out of those [waiting]rooms.
…remotely triaging patients before they even arrive.
…an iPad rigged on a four legged robot called Spot allows staffers to see patients from a safe distance in the ER or a triage tent outside, via a video assessment and a thermal-imaging camera to measure breathing rate.
Keeping Doctors and Patients at a Distance.
To make it safer for patients and staff alike, some hospitals are trying to limit contact.
In intensive-care units, instead of placing IV poles and monitors next to the patient, they are now positioned outside the room so nurses can check patients’ status without unnecessary exposure for both…
For example, he says, newly-diagnosed heart-disease patients, who need frequent checkups and possibly adjustments to their medications, could use the [electronic] system to relay important data to their doctors remotely.
The above observations are scary enough in themselves, but then I was thinking about the “vulnerable elderly” who are confined to nursing homes, or live in various other congregate long-term-care environments like assisted-living communities. In the Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic, thousands of such vulnerable elderly people died alone, in their rooms, forbidden to see family and friends in their final days. For some reason, the idea of a video visit on an iPad sounds cold and unfriendly to me.
It is well-known that human beings are social animals. Isolation is used as punishment in prisons and even by mothers with unruly children who send them to their rooms as a “time-out”. It is also well-known that human babies need close contact with their mothers to thrive and grow. Children neglected by their parents and not held or cuddled can waste away, or become depressed or anxious.
The idea of isolation being the theme of the “new office” or the “new hospital” is very unpleasant. It is not a nice thought, that starting now, we need to be afraid of our coworkers, and even our doctors. It is uncomfortable to have to go through life in fear of every other human being you encounter, but it appears that those designing physical spaces, and medical care facilities, will now be doing their best to minimize contact among all employees and clients. It is not fun to think that your hairdresser, your manicurist, and your doctor, are now afraid of you.
I am in the age-group that is now defined as “vulnerable”, and it scares me shitless to think of what it will be like if I ever have to go to a hospital for any reason. Will I be held at arms-length by everyone I encounter? Will I be prevented from having any visitors, including my husband? Will I be forced to suffer, and maybe even die, alone? This is abhorrent to me, and I plan to do everything I can to avoid that kind of future.
I wonder how many others think this kind of future is a nightmare? How many of you out there are horrified with the physical environment that will, by design, keep others away from you? We humans require others around us, for celebrations, concerts, sports, and restaurant meals. Will we all agree to give up things like handshakes when meeting a new colleague, or hugs when comforting a friend who has suffered a loss? I hope and pray that my fellow people will not go happily into the “socially-distant” future without putting up a fight.