In connection with the coronavirus we integrate newly emerging words into our vocabulary. Many of them already existed, but were of no great importance to the majority of the population. Who has ever dealt with the wearing of face masks, except medical staff or people in industry or construction? Some of these terms are German, many are English. Who previously heard the word “reproduction rate” or “social distancing”, “prevalence” or “attack rate” every day? Which word will probably become the word of the year 2020? Will it be “lockdown” or the “new normal”?
The “lockdown” presumably was a formative experience for all of us. Everyone had to cope with it in his own fields and reorganise his life in different ways. The hardest hit, of course, are single elderly people and those in care homes. For many, despite supporting measures, things are getting tight to critical.
On the whole, the effective lockdown was only a short period of time. Everywhere one hears calls for an opportunity to learn from this crisis and to shape the future better.
And maybe it‘s not so wrong to go back to the drawing board in both personal and social life. Many more children, teenagers and adults can be seen playing outside than before. The fact that you do not need to rush from place to place these days and you can relax on the balcony once in a while could be reinstated in your life from now on.
However, what will last longer – nobody knows how long – is what comes after the lockdown. In any case, this will not be the old normal. It seems that we are actually heading towards a new normality. The term the “new normal” in regard to life after the corona crisis has been used daily on Anglo-American television for a few weeks now. It appears more and more frequently in the German-language media as well. The idea that we can get back to business as usual after the crisis is on the wane.
However, the concept of the “new normal” is not so new and was not shaped by the corona crisis. It has a longer history and has been adopted from the American.
The “new normal” is a business and economic phrase that refers to the financial conditions after the financial crisis from 2007 to 2008 and the aftermath of the global recession from 2008 to 2012. It is said that the financial crisis has brought about a new normality which includes a fundamental restructuring of the economic order. The “new normal” is often used as a term for a digital capitalism, in the context of Silicon Valley or China. It was in 2001 someone used this expression in conjunction with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center 11 September 2001 (9/11) had plunged the US into a “new normality”. Since then the phrase has been a buzz-word.¹ It has since been used in a variety of other contexts to imply that something that was previously “not normal” is now part of our everyday experience.²
For example, in 2012 a US-American sitcom entitled “The new normal” appeared, which features new family patterns and gender issues.
In 2010, a journalist asked whether “being fat was the new normal” in the US. Her article is about the fact that many Americans are being overweight. This would shift the perception of what is slim or fat.³
These are just two of countless other examples. If you enter the keyword “new normal” in Google search, 11.5 million entries are counted (as of May 30, 2020). Even Wikipedia has already attended to the phrase.
Whatever our political position, the coronavirus challenges us as a whole society to rethink and, where necessary, reorganise politics, economics and our daily lives. We can’t just go back to normal. But whether what is called “new normal” will actually be a progress for mankind or whether specific interests are more likely to come into play is another crucial question. •
¹ Roberts, Alasdair. “Four Crises of American Democracy”, Oxford University Press, 2017
² Wikipedia: New Normal, business
³ Rauh, Sherry. “Is fat the New Normal?”, 2010
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