While most people will be happy to see the back of 2020, there’s no denying that it forced many people to pause and get out of autopilot mode. Whether it was re-evaluating their priorities in life or considering whether we’re on the right path as a species, it has been a year of reflection and resetting for many. So with the year coming to a close, here are the three lessons that 2020 taught me about life, business, and myself.
Lesson #1: Man is not an island
Man is not an island, as they say. Our social lives are not only vital to our mental wellbeing but to our physical existence, with research showing that loneliness is as deadly to humans as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. We are social animals, and a genuine connection to other humans is a basic biological need. This explains why research found that those who have a strong sense of belonging to social groups are happier than those who don’t. In simple terms, we are wired to need human connection.
For those who live with their families, 2020’s work-from-home and “school’s out” way of life gifted people more time to spend with their loved ones. But for those who live alone (14 million in the UK) or whose family members are front-line workers, this year has often been lonely and isolating. I’ve spent the majority of the year on my own, and while the lack of social life has translated to my best ever year in business, such successes feel lacklustre when you spend most of your time alone.
Lesson #2: The future is dystopian
Pre-Covid, we were already heading down an increasingly digital path, spending ever more of our time behind screens. Almost overnight, such devices became our primary method of social contact. While tech enabled us to communicate with many of our loved ones, we have been stuck in a dystopian novel where much of human interaction happens behind a screen and where life is 2D.
Some would argue that technology means we are never alone; however, connection through a screen cannot replicate IRL interaction. No amount of Zoom or FaceTime can replace the physical connection of eye contact, body language, hugging, and so on. Virtual connections may offer a thin shield against loneliness (and one that is better than none), but real human connection is found when we turn off our screens.
Also consider what happens when somebody falls outside the web. My 86-year-old grandad is in a care home with Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative eye condition, and very poor hearing. Unable to see his family or use tech, he has been separated from his loved ones for a year. A reliance on tech for social interaction isolates those who can’t access, afford, or use it. (This, along with job losses and mass fear, may explain why suicide and depression rates have more than doubled this year.)
2020 has given us a glimpse of the future we are heading towards on our technological path—one where we live our lives online, through screens, physically disconnected from our fellow humans and spending most of our time in our homes. My hope is that rather than pushing ourselves further into this virtual world, we see the importance of the real world and the value of our 3D life (yes, I realise the irony that I’m posting this online).
Lesson #3: Real life is a rich tapestry
During the pandemic, much of society re-evaluated the importance of healthcare workers, as demonstrated by Clap for Carers. Such appreciation for those who look after us at our worst couldn’t have come a moment too soon. But when all “non-essential” life stopped during lockdown, it also offered us another less obvious lesson: all work and no play drains the colour out of life.
While entire industries were deemed “non-essential” such as film and TV, sports, dining out, cinemas, music, and travel, we failed to stop and appreciate these industries for making life a rich tapestry of experiences. Of course, they aren’t necessary to our physical survival, but they do help us to live a varied, well-rounded life, and to foster that vital sense of connection and belonging. They’re what makes life more than just work and survival.
When “real life” resumes, I will not take for granted going to the football with my mom, meeting friends for tea and cake, hosting freelance meetups, rocking out at gigs, watching the works of Shakespeare brought to life on the stage, and travelling the world to see other cultures (note that none of these things happen through a screen).
If 2020 has taught me anything—it’s that real, physical, 3D human life happens out there, in the world. Rather than retreating further into our virtual worlds, I hope that 2020 makes us appreciate the real world.