In 1964 Marshall McLuhan, a media and communication theorist educated at the University of Cambridge, developed the theory known as the ‘Global Village‘. McLuhan predicted that one day the world would be interconnected by an electronic nervous system due to pervasive technological advances which would enable instantaneous sharing of culture.
This remarkable theoretical view was expressed well over five decades ago during the time that technological advances, compared to what we know today, were still at a basic stage. No internet, no mobile phones, no advanced satellite systems, and no social media. The Global Village of technological advances is now a reality! But it seems that the world is also becoming a new form of Global Village, one that is united by a common enemy: COVID-19. One salient aspect of this globalisation is a stark change in codes of ethics and interpersonal behaviour.
In the same decade that McLuhan developed his Global Village theory, the Oxford-educated social psychologist Michael Argyle published the infamous book The Psychology of Interpersonal Behaviour. His book was seen as a breakthrough in the analysis of social behaviour, especially from different cultural perspectives. First published in 1967, Argyle compared Western and Eastern cultures and how there are many fundamental differences in cultural norms and codes of ethics in social interactions.
An interesting example of such differences in codes of ethics between different cultures was depicted on TV screens in 1993 when Yasser Arafat and the Israeli delegate spent a considerable time to enter the White House because none of them wanted to be first. While Bill Clinton found it amusing, for those familiar with the Middle Eastern codes of ethics this was seen as being as gesture of respect to your companion, by insisting they should go first.
That was then, now COVID -19 has brought forth a pandemic and provided us with a new common enemy and massive change in the Global Village of interpersonal behaviour.
Whether you are in the West or the East, you are forced to change, modify or reconsider many of the established codes of social ethics. Pre-COVID-19, if you had made a sudden shift of direction away from the people coming towards you, they would have seen this as a rude gesture, today they say: ‘Thank you’!
It is now normal not to offer a seat if you are on public transport or not to hold the door open for people following you when entering a venue. Kissing, regardless of gender or culture, was the norm when saying hello or goodbye but today it’s forbidden, we can’t even hug our family! Shaking hands when meeting someone in particular cultures is an acceptable, even expected greeting, whereas in some cultures, shaking hands is seen as a rude gesture, for example, in Islam and Judaism men are not expected to shake hands with women. Today not shaking hands is a global expectation, also termed as the ‘new normal‘.
The pandemic has also brought forth the need to wear a mask, further highlighting differences in recognised cultural and social codes – whilst the daily and common use of masks and face coverings is established in Asian countries, seeing them in everyday life is somewhat unusual in Western societies. In fact any garment impeding the full sight of an individual will require removal before entering certain premises, a motorbike helmet in a bank for example.
For countries new to the practice of having part of their face covered, there may be a perceived loss of the ability to communicate in a non-verbal manner, for example by exhibiting different emotional expressions.
However, it is acknowledged that expression can be conveyed through eye contact, when our mouths and noses are covered. The focus instead moves to maintaining eye contact to understand how people are feeling and being more attentive to their tone and hand gestures. While this may not be difficult, it is very different to the ways in which many people in Western cultures are used to communicating – thus depolarising codes of ethics in this respect.
There are now many examples of how the world around us is changing rapidly to conform to a universal code of interpersonal behaviour and social code of ethics dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Its’ impact of change has already been apparent in sports, with marquee events played without audiences, in academia, with teaching and research shifting to predominantly online platforms, and in psychological investigations, now with a bias towards examining the impact of COVID-19 during and post worldwide lockdowns. These examples are merely a few of the many changes inflicted upon our societies, cultures and codes of ethics, whether we live in the East or West, or in fact almost anywhere across the globe.
Today the world, as predicted by McLuhan, is a Global Village of technological communications but it’s also a Global Village engaged in a battle against a common enemy, COVID-19. The rules of engagement, however, have to be written taking into account new codes of ethics and social and interpersonal behaviour.
Image credit: Freepik
Dr Linda Duffy is Associate Professor of Sport Psychology at Middlesex University. She is a founding member of the Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology of the British Psychological Society.
Dr Bahman Baluch is an Associate Professor and Chartered Psychologist at Middlesex University. His main research interests are cognitive and developmental psychology.
Sarah Welland is a PhD student at Middlesex University London. Her research project is entitled ‘An evaluation of the “Get Onside” programme: reducing re-offending at a Young Offenders Institution (YOI)’.