The historian Yuval Noah Harari in a recent interview spoke of the pandemic as a huge ( though completely involuntary) “social experiment”.
Social psychology studies the interaction between human beings and the factors that can guide their attitudes and behaviors. One of the tools that researchers use to validate their hypotheses is to organize “social experiments”, which consist of placing individuals or groups of people in a new and particular condition or context, without any warning or instruction as to how they are expected to react.
Social psychologists observe behaviour and draw their own conclusions. But, precisely because these experiments expose human beings to unusual situations, the consequences of which may be unpredictable, social experiments involve small groups, for a limited time, in controlled environments.
In the interview, Harari gives several examples. What happens when an entire university suddenly moves all the courses online? What happens when millions of people start working from home? Or if a state offers financial contributions to everyone without distinction?
In fact, these things, which are really happening now in the world, until the day before yesterday were at best school hypotheses, to be verified perhaps, with all caution, in the distant future.
The scale of this social experiment that we are all experiencing is planetary, so it becomes crucial to ask ourselves: what is the impact that it can have, beyond the very heavy economic consequences, on behaviour, priorities and values, and on the ways of thinking and acting of a large part of humanity.
Harari adds that “we cannot predict today what will happen”. The rapidity and pervasiveness of the pandemic have forced everyone to confront their own individual fragility. They reveal and, with this, put in crisis the very characteristics of the globalized human being.
The globality and impact of the pandemic, on the other hand, invite us to radically restructure hierarchies of values and aspirations that appeared to be consolidated and permanent and pose new questions for future generations.
How will the covid-19 generation grow, and with what awareness and what fears? How many risk falling behind, with how much social and economic damage? Will a new awareness of the environment be formed?