Is This the New Normal?

My friend Stacey asked on Facebook, with little context, “Is this the new normal?” By which I assume she means, gestures vaguely at everything.

Dear Stacey–the good news is, no. This is not the new normal.

The bad news is, there is no such thing as normal anymore, at least not for a while. Normalcy is predicated on some generally accepted norms and the truth is, our entire lives have been a series of norm-destroying moments (for good and bad). Accelerated social change has been the hallmark of our generation. This acceleration, or at least my perception of it, feels like it has been building since the 1960s, but we’re really reaping the effects now, thanks to accelerated information exchange brought about by the internet.

This is good and bad, I think. For a geeky kid like me, norms regarding what it’s okay to like were oppressive and resulted in a lot of bullying. But norms also contribute to a sense of societal cohesion.

Do you feel like things are holding together very well lately? I sure as hell do not. In fact, everything feels likes like it is constantly tumbling to pieces now. And this feeling didn’t really start with our current president, although his actions are another accelerant in the mix.

The new normal is– no wait, sorry, it changed again. The new normal is–oh shit, really? He said what? I guess that’s just what our country– oh, he walked it back already? Fuck it, I give up.

Science fiction writers talk about something called the singularity, where technological change happens faster and faster, and it’s impossible to predict what comes next. I feel like the internet has brought about a kind of societal singularity, where norms are breaking down faster than we can build new ones, contributing overall to a sense of unease and declining feelings of cohesion.

Again — this is not all bad. It’s not all good. Nuance is the key word on my blog. Blogs are better to discuss this sort of thing than social media. Norms are both a sense of security and also oppressive.

Right now I think we could all use a sense of things calming down, or slowing down, though.

There’s some thinking that this isn’t the new non-normal, which is to say, this period of accelerated change may not last forever. Our society is undergoing a change not unlike the one from agrarian to industrial, and these periods to tend to be accompanied by major upheaval. Not even to mention the upheaval that we’re starting to experience from global warming!

So maybe not having a new normal is a temporary thing. If we wait long enough, turbulence will settle down and we’ll have a new, new normal. Assuming we all live long enough to see that day come, anyway.

Another possibility for Stacey and I is that we could simply be getting older; change is happening faster; it’s that our abilities to keep up are declining. We know this will happen at some point, but I’d like to think the early 40s are a bit too soon for society to leave me in its dust.

I keep circling back to this global information network that allows the spread of ideas (good or bad) at unprecedented speeds. We blundered into this society without a plan. Maybe our kids, who have lived in it their entire lives, will find a better way forward. They do seem quite a bit more empathic. The survival traits that seem to dominate in a world with such interconnectedness and collapsing societal norms are either heightened empathy or zero empathy. Let’s hope the former trait wins out in the ever-shifting societal norms, or we’ll be ground up into dog food in our retirement, eh?

So the new normal is that there is a new normal every ninety seconds, and we better adjust to that and ride it out, or, alternatively, die. Much like Midwestern weather, if you don’t like the new normal, wait a little bit and it’ll change. And if you want an old normal back? Tough shit. Happy Monday!

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