Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Personal Space

By now you have probably seen images of the ingenious inner tube tables meant to ensure physical distancing at the Fish Tales Bar & Grill in Ocean City. Even if you think it’s too soon to be pouring out to the beach and boardwalk, you can’t help but smile at the sight: those folks grouped together like so many bumper cars at an amusement park, as they test out what may come to be the newest thing in summer fun.

In Italy, a museum is set to reopen an important Raphael exhibit with special restrictions to enforce distancing in place. A guide will lead groups limited to six museum patrons through the exhibit. Elsewhere in Italy, the Florence Cathedral will be issuing visitors “social distancing necklaces”.

The cathedral explained the new technology in a video posted on YouTube this week. Crafted by Italian company Advance Microwave Engineering, the rectangular devices can sense when they are within roughly six feet of each other. If users are too close for comfort (and safety), their necklaces will begin to flash and vibrate much like a noisy cell phone or restaurant pager.

Perhaps this is a sign that I continue to be a devoted introvert, but I can’t help but think that these measures might be worth keeping long after the virus has ceased to plague us. I can think of plenty of unsavory bar behavior that could be prevented by planting customers in inner tubes. And would vibrating necklaces gradually teach us to give each other personal space in museums, sporting events, or even the grocery?

It seems unlikely that either method will make the transition from a pandemic response to part of normal daily life. Those of us who are shy or who naturally treasure our sense of personal space might wish that they would, though. I’m sure others are longing for the time that we can all crowd together in safety. 

As a preschool teacher, I can only imagine how my students would respond to either method of physical distancing. I’m pretty sure they’d be fascinated by doing whatever they could to activate the mechanism of the necklaces. Repeatedly. And, as for inner tube tables? It could be the new activity room at IKEA.

What do you think? Will methods such as these (and others we haven’t even heard of yet) be accepted and used faithfully to limit the spread of disease? Or will they merely be a humorous footnote in the history of a scary time we would all just as soon forget?

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