Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Why Are We All Doing The Same Things in Isolation?

Will coronavirus spell the end of the hipster beard? - In the press
Original ideas are in short supply.

One of the weird things I've noticed about this quarantine deal is how everyone is engaging in the same activities as though it were orchestrated.  I know most people watch television, or are on Facebook, or they listen to Twitter - and maybe they get a lot of these ideas from those sources. Maybe that explains why people were hoarding toilet paper and bottled water really on.  They saw something on Facebook or Twitter about it. and decided they needed to get involved.

But I'm not on Facebook or Twitter and I don't watch television other than YouTube and Netflix videos. How come I came up with the same ideas as everyone else?

For example, early on into the quarantine, I decided to let my beard grow out. I was somewhat shocked when we left the house a couple of weeks later and saw that all our friends have done the same thing. We all came up with the same clever idea all at once.  Of course, most of us shaved them off again, because they didn't fit under our masks.  Once again, we behave as herd animals.

We heard something about there being a bread shortage - although it never really materialized where we live. Nevertheless we thought it would be fun to drag out the old bread maker machine that somebody gave us and make some homemade bread. Well apparently a lot of other people had the same idea, as when I went to the store all the bread flour was sold out and the yeast was in very short supply.

Of course, we live in the south, where biscuits are king. So it's entirely possible that the biscuit demand is what created these flour shortages. Nevertheless, I talked to many of my friends and they all said the same thing – that they were bringing out that old bread machine that got as a Christmas gift and years ago and were now making bread at home.  How original!

I was online on the Walmart site buying something for a bathroom remodeling. They offered free shipping if we added more items and we were able to find bread flour for cheap.  I was still $2 short of the free shipping and Mark suggested I buy and lasagna noodles.  I was shocked to see that most all the pasta it was sold out including lasagna noodles. Apparently other people had the idea to make lasagna.

And I guess that's because people want comfort foods in this time where we need comfort.  So all the comfort type foods are selling out.  Also, I think things like flour, rice, and pasta are good staples that have a long shelf life,  and thus people bought these because they could keep them and not have to go back to the grocery store again in the near future.

But speaking of home remodeling, we decided after sitting around the house that maybe it was time we finished our painting and remodeling project, starting with the guest bathroom. We ordered most of the things we needed online and we already bought the paint.  However that when we went to Home Depot and Lowes, we are shocked to see how many people were there.  Apparently everybody else had the same idea, sitting around the disheveled hovel that they lived in and decided maybe it needs a little fixing up.

David Sedaris commented on this phenomena in one of his books. He went to a novelty shop in Brooklyn and they had fake glass eyeballs in a tray by the cash register. There was a sign next to the trace saying "Please do not place these up to your eyes as they will scratch your cornea!"  Apparently they had a rough cut section in the back.  What Sedaris thought was interesting was his first instinct was to hold the glass up in the front of his eyes and make some sort of face or comment and apparently everybody else thought the exact same thing.  He thought he was being original and funny when in fact what he was thinking was what everyone else was thinking too.

We are herd animals.  We are lemmings.

So even without the television or Facebook or Twitter or other online sources to guide me, I came up with the exact same ideas as all my fellow citizens. Or maybe the normative cues are more subtle than we think. When I went to the grocery store perhaps I subconsciously noted the lack of bread flour and thought to myself "Gee, maybe we should get out the old bread machine!"   It could be that.

Or maybe we all have some kind of ESP.   I doubt it though.  Probably a better theory is that as human beings, we are all pretty much the same and have the same thoughts, so when left alone in lockdown, we come up with the same ideas.

Maybe that is a little depressing to think about, but it may be our reality, and reality is value-neutral.  The real downside to this isn't that it is depressing we are so unoriginal, but that when we all act as a herd, it usually is to our disadvantage, personally, as we shall see in my next posting.