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  • Writer's pictureKay Gravesande

Virtual Turned into Reality - A Year After the Pandemic Hit the US

On March 13, 2020 schools across the U.S. began abruptly sending their students home for an undeterminable amount of time. As media outlets fiercely reported live updates of the spread of the Coronavirus, the only sure thing America knew was to panic, raid the grocery stores for toilet paper and stay indoors. The virus was airborne and the details weren't yet fully developed, or as we later came to know, released.

Over then next few months, we saw COVID-19 data and mayhem skyrocket - from the death tolls and mask debates to symptom checkers and travel restrictions all over. The country was forced to stop in its' tracks, including a major halt on business production around the globe, and when at all possible seek shelter in an attempt to slow the spread of this icky little bug. The Coronavirus canceled weddings and graduations, closed small businesses, and showed millennials were right about the ability to work from home - well, for all except those in manufacturing. So how has the U.S. changed a year post COVID-19 release?

1. More Remote Work Options

Since most companies had to adapt quickly to the Shelter in Place orders mandated around the country in order to keep their businesses operational, employees have proven they can successfully work from home. As a consequence, remote work is basically a guarantee at most major organizations. If not for all positions, it is likely for those that sit behind a computer most of the day. And if remote work isn't offered, you certainly could make a valid case for the option if your job could be virtual and the company is initially against it in our current time.

For some, remote work a huge plus, as it has helped shift the balance between work and life back into life's favor. No longer are highways jammed packed during rush hour and "staying late at the office" has become a distant memory. Can we claim the days when work took over our normal Monday through Friday schedule are dead? I'm not sure about that yet, as working remotely often leads to a shift in work hours at home; however it could mean more family meals and less missed baseball games. \As a working mom of elementary kids, I won't complain.

2. Virtual Learning on the Rise

We've always had virtual learning as an option (i.e. K-12), but to most it seemed like a radical idea... until you throw a curveball like a potentially deadly virus in the mix and now, mmm okay, maybe it's not so bad. My 2nd grader has been a virtual learner this entire school year and I can attest this has been a year to remember. He's a responsible and attentive kid, so it's easy for him to keep up with his schedule and complete assignments. He sits in an online class with about 20 other kids and it works for him. If this was my younger, more mischievous kiddo, there's no way he would get through the day working on a laptop without me constantly telling him to "sit down" and "stop shoving the pencil in the chair".

There's only so much a kid can learn through a screen, so while he's able to pick up new math and language arts lessons, a heavy load falls on me and my hubs to teach him science, PE, art and music. To be fair, I'm not teaching Physical Education, moreso just making sure he and little brother get some playtime in the backyard on warm days, or jump around in our homemade basement play area when it's raining. Still, you have to do what's right for your child and I'm not judging one way or the other. I'm interested to see if a virtual class option will remain available after society adjusts to the Coronavirus. As we know, every child learns differently, and virtual learning is almost like the middle man between homeschooling and in-class learning. Hmmmm, ideas are brewing...

3. Creativity is at an All Time High

Tell me the truth, in the past year have you started painting, drawing, making memes, dabbled in blogging (or vlogging), or any other type of craft? If you said yes, you are exactly who I'm referring to when I say people are flexing those creative muscles more than ever. My theory is this happened because there's nothing else to do. Well, there wasn't up until a few months ago when the flight prices dropped as soon as the travel bans were lifted, so folks hopped on planes quicker than frog snaps up a fly. When people were lounging at home week after week they got bored and said "okay, if I don't figure out what to do with myself I'm going to lose it". Not to mention we were flooded with Political jargon and Black Lives Matter updates daily and kids stressed out from not having teenie bop parties or taking selfies with their galpals at the mall. Finding a creative outlet may have been your essential escape for sanity... outside of the bottle of wine and your new fav series to binge watch on Hulu or Netflix.

4. The Government is Making it Rain

There are probably a few who disagree with me on this, but hear me out. Over the past 10 years, name a time when the U.S. government gave out any breaks to it's citizens. I'll wait...

Cool, so since you came up empty handed, in 2020, they responded with two stimulus packages (for those who made under $150,000 in total household income) and released business loans, which weren't that complicated to get approved for. In addition, they also added to the unemployment payments for those affected by COVID-19 and more recently, under the Biden Harris administration, we have approval of $10,000 student loan forgiveness. HOT off the press, the House of Representatives recently just passes - like yesterday - a third round stimulus, business loan package and extension on unemployment benefits. I get it, people are still very unsatisfied with this in comparison to other countries; however in all things considered, I can't say I expected a red carpet rollout when all hell broke loose last Spring.

5. Social Awkwardness Could Be Our Downfall

Sorry in advance - okay I got that out. Everyone born after 1998 is socially awkward and its only getting worse. It's a bold statement, and I said what I said. Technology is awesome; it has allowed us to add decades to our life expectancy and connect with people across the globe. We can video chat with literally anyone anytime, and talk through a watch. We have electric cars, AI cameras and so much more. The problem with advances in tech is people lose interest in human interaction. They spend so much time behind a computer or cell phone, they forget... or never learn... how to communicate through following social cues, tones, annunciation, public speaking and body language.

The Coronavirus forced the world into hibernation. I believe this sped up a social dysfunction learning curve for our youth. Kids who aren't able to interact with other kids or learn necessary patience and focal skills from a classroom setting may find it troubling when they are older and developing these skills late. Its similar to the smoke and mirrors theory of social media. Kids who grow up on \platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter tend to have a false reality of what to expect at their current developmental stage. They speak more recklessly due to the lack of repercussion - hence why cyber bullying is a major issue. It's also easy to see others in your cohort appear to be in much better situations than you, unknowing to the truth. Example: a girl in your grade is always posting pictures of her in designer shoes, when the truth is she's window shopping, trying on the shoes for a photo.

Perhaps the most damaging aspect in this social cycle is that we have a generation of kids who have a plethora of social issues - anxiety, depression, social awkwardness, cyber bullying from both ends of the spectrum, etc. - and they are learning from behind a computer right now in high school and college to be the future parents and leaders of another generation of socially disturbed kids! Millennials aren't greats in everything, but they are the last generation that lived without the internet shoved in their face from birth. Gen X are critical right now as well, as they are needed to provide wisdom to the youth but need the millennial generation to bridge the gap with innovation and collaboration. In a nutshell, if we want to help the future, we are all going to work together to implant age old techniques of addressing emotions, dealing with them and moving forward.

March has become a scary month for many as they start to toss and turn remembering the horrible Friday the 13th of 2020. It was a rollercoaster year, full of unexpected loops and twists that made us say "whoaaaa" while we frantically searched our chest for a seatbelt as the fear of falling grew stronger. The silver lining in all of this is growth always hurts. I think 2020 was a collective year for everyone to bloom. The higher power (whoever that is for you), rolled the Earth like a bowling ball down the Milky Way lane into a set of pins and we weren't sure of we had any protection as we saw the pins get closer and closer. For those of us who made it to the end of the lane, I hope you challenged yourself and leveled up. For those who lost someone along the way, remember them on your journey as we continue to adapt to our new life. I always will.

One final thought - stop saying "when COVID-19 is over", it won't ever be over. Pneumonia, the flu, bronchitis and any other illness is never over. As a society, we learned to adapt. We will do the same with the Coronavirus. Maybe that means we will wear masks for a few years until globally our immunity builds. Maybe we will add a virtual option for all public events or maybe a new verge of innovation is on the rise and we find a harmonization to make being outside and being safe a reality.

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