Living down a dirt road with an internet connection

photo by Micah Boerma via Pexels.com

When we get through this chillingly historic time, what precious ritual in our lives will be changed or gone forever? Were any of them really precious?

Some of mine were to me. I cringe at the thought of not shaking hands any more. That has always been a meaningful way for me to connect with people. And handshakes are like snowflakes, every one of them is different.

There’s the standard man-to-man grasp that is one-handed and always a balancing act between being firm enough but without hurting anyone. Then there is my preferred bro-hug, which features the one-handed shake combined with half a hug. It is hard for tension to survive an intro that starts with a bro hug.

The #metoo movement had severely impacted other greetings. The old-school greeting hug between men and women is already wounded, except within the closest relationships. COVID 19 may be finishing that one off for good too.

Maybe our culture will survive. Actually, I am sure it will. But it will be different.

For many Americans working and schooling from home, what is the dress code? Bath robes suffice for the most part, unless some go-getter on your team insists on a Zoom call with full blown video. A helpful hint: any kind of pants, shorts, shoes, etc. can be worn even under those intrusive circumstances. Which is why “stretchy” pants sales are probably on the rise. Uncomfortable dress shoes and high heels sales on the other hand are likely tanking. Hopefully.

When we all have to go back to offices and classrooms, will we want to wear a suit or a uniform? I didn’t before, so the odds of me being excited to put a suit and tie back on, heaven forbid, are virtually zero. What purpose do these uncomfortable get-ups even serve in a post COVID 19 America?

If you want to restore “business attire,” prepare to fight.

Conversely, I will not fight to save meetings. I’m actually prepared to eulogize you Mr. Office Meeting. And yes, it is a “he.” It is a ritual of the old white man, a club of which I am a begrudging member.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I value a good dialogue. But when people realize how much quicker most calls and video conferences are in comparison, why would we go back? I suspect some slackers on your team might abuse having some carefully timed “technical problems” or “connectivity issues” to play adult-style hooky. I am personally more inclined to conveniently disappear when allegedly driving near Lafayette, Indiana on I-65. That “dead spot” is evergreen. Even with those obstacles, the COVID 19 experience could drive a stake in the heart of the ongoing travesty innocently known as “the meeting.”

During a call Thursday night for a non-profit board on which I serve, a fellow board member said “in the end, the internet will be the hero” against the coronavirus. Of course, right? Every community and every spot within each of them have differing levels of access to the internet. Urban areas outperform rural areas in access and speeds. Beyond that, not every home has multiple devices that can be used simultaneously. When a home’s “connectivity” exists entirely through a handheld device, e-learning for a family is practically impossible.

Telecommuting and distance learning are not equally available for all people. This is something we should do something about. We will need to spend money on our schools to make e-learning more available immediately. Don’t hesitate. It’s well spent.

Indiana is spending some fresh money on making roads and highways as good as they can be. But I have been saying it for years, the people living in a house at the end of a dirt road can enjoy most of the educational and professional opportunities as anyone else if they have that competitive broadband connection. Broadband is the great equalizer. And it’s cheaper than any car, road or bridge.

I have reliable utility service and great speeds online at my home in downtown Indianapolis. I don’t need an office, even in good times.

So, spare the handshakes and hugs. Cancel the suits, ties and meetings. None of them really matter much.

Insist on being connected to as many humans as possible, and at high speed. “Pandemic” is a scary word and modern communication is not its Kryptonite. But for now, it is the best weapon we have.

It will be the way we preserve and grow our connections with one another. Things won’t be the same, but that news is not all bad.

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Michael Leppert

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