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A New Normal for Personal Contact

Marconi Society Coronavirus and Our Connected World


By Martin Cooper

Martin Cooper developed the concept of the handheld portable phone and led the team at Motorola that created the wireless industry. Cooper is the recipient of the Marconi Prize, the National Academy of Engineering Charles Stark Draper Prize and the IEEE Centennial Medal.

The coronavirus has, as is true with every human crisis, brought out the extremes in human behavior. Our response is a testament to the durability of humanity and, in many ways, technology and technologists are dominating this positive effort. Especially notable is the diversion of university resources to address specific Corona issues.

The coronavirus is not the worst catastrophe to befall mankind: we have survived far worse and will survive this. It is reasonably certain that we will have a vaccine within 18 months. It is likely that we will have some form of medication in a much shorter time. And it is probable that the actions we are taking will reduce the effect of the virus to manageable proportions in a matter of months. But it is certain that most of us will change our behavior indefinitely.

  • Like most of us, my friends and colleagues are now using Skype and Zoom. While these apps are more time efficient than face-to-face meetings, they are deficient in other respects. As we gain skills in remote meeting and as the capabilities evolve, there will be more remote meeting and less travel. The Corona crisis will accelerate this change.
  • We no longer shake hands, hug or kiss. Will we learn how to do that again? There is something special about the human contact from handshakes and hugs that creates a much faster and deeper connection than an elbow or toe touch.
  • We stand further apart than has been customary. The nuances of facial expression that are so important in communications are now harder to discern. Further, the amount of space it takes for conversation involving more than two people greatly reduces intimacy in homes and offices and restaurants. How close will we get to each other again?
  • The fear of the Corona virus makes us leery of creating new relationships and stresses the existing ones.

The effects of the Corona virus will pass. It’s social impact will not. Expect a new normal.