Humans are apes, and like all others social ones. Inherently, we need to surround ourselves with people to keep the mind calm and life bearable. When humans are all alone, it will drive them mad. When humans are alone for long enough, they will go crazy. To prove that people actually go crazy, scientists tortured lab monkeys by isolating them from the group, so they could study their behaviour. Soon enough, the lonesome monkeys started rocking, self-clasping and circling in their cages. Soon after, they started staring blankly, mutilating themselves and displaying inappropriate sexual behaviour. Quite a scary sight it was, the scientists said. When the data were analysed, the results written up, and the monkeys put to sleep, they officially called it the social isolation syndrome.  

To find out why this stereotypic behaviour occurs exactly, more animals needed to be sacrificed in the name of science. Rats, in this case, showed that chronical mental stress caused by isolation wears down the hippocampus. This part of the brain is essential for mood regulation, memory formation, as well as spatial orientation, which surely explains a lot. More disturbingly, studies on mice showed that brain cells started dying off rapidly when they were put in isolation. The number of neurons shrunk by a shocking twenty percent in only a month time, which is damage that can’t be undone. It’s illegal to do such experiments on humans, but we can show that we too suffer from the social isolation syndrome due to the cruel and medieval practise called solitary confinement. 

When prisoners are put in solitary confinement for weeks on end, they will start hallucinating, converse with themselves, fall into a severe depression, and often attempt suicide. Even after these people regain their freedom, they no longer feel comfortable with having people around. They distance themselves from the public, push their family members away, and sometimes lock themselves up in bathrooms or closets for extended periods of time. As predicted by the rats, solitary confinement survivors said that their conversation skills were largely reduced, their memory severely compromised, and their navigational skills completely lost. It’s similar to the lonesome monkeys that were allowed back into the group after months of isolation. They refused to engage with others and sometimes stopped eating until they eventually died. 

Although monkeys and prisoners make good case studies, scientists never got to study the social isolation syndrome in ordinary people, who live in their natural environment. Until now that is, because all of a sudden along came the corona virus. Ironically, animals still had to be sacrificed, not in a lab but Chinese wildlife slaughtering market this time. Viruses can jump from one species to the other, it turns out. It’s something we knew already, but neither Influenza, SARS, or Ebola could stop us from eating uncooked endangered wildlife anyway. The problem with corona is, though, that it’s a hell of a lot contagious and that its morphology fools our immune system. It looks oddly similar to the next best harmless protein according to our white blood cells, which is why the incubation time is much longer and many unwitting people get infected before symptoms even show. One smart bugger, that corona. Another notable difference is that it’s not constricted to one part of the world. Even the wealthiest, most powerful nations are now, for what might be the first time in modern history, powerless themselves too. Corona has infected and affected us all. Countries are in lockdown, and people are advised to socially isolate themselves for as long as is required. Let’s get the notebooks ready!  

The first thing people will have to face is the lack of stimuli in the confined environment of their homes. This can lead to severe states of boredom, which is a different problem on its own. Because we have gotten used to living in an overstimulated society with infinite entertainment options, we lost the ability to satisfy ourselves in the lack of these stimuli. The more excited we felt, the more we chased it, until eventually our fear of boredom grew into a form of escapism. We filled our lives with constant entertainment to avoid self-reflection and acknowledging our unused potential. But we can’t escape no more, because suddenly there is corona. No more dinner parties, no more yoga classes, no more tinder dates, and no more clubbing on a Saturday night. We are left with a play station and a Netflix account, which won’t nearly be enough to prevent us from experiencing true boredom, for perhaps the first time in our lives. For modern day people, staying at home for weeks on end might indeed feel a bit like solitary confinement. 

Boredom is a biological phenomenon, or somewhat of a social disease, just like a cough or a flu is. Symptoms expected to result from this are repetitive thoughts, self-conversing, endless pacing, and treating our favourite pillow as it is were to be a real life person. It is also predicted that we will start displaying neurotic and compulsive forms of activity to kill time, for instance by polishing our cutlery, ironing our socks, counting the number of tiles on the kitchen floor, and building a dream house out of matches. Desperate for company, isolated people are likely to spend the bulk of their time on the phone and social media, to share their feelings of despair and seek for empathy. However, when isolated not alone but with others, it is predicted that they will start distancing themselves from their company and rely on stress release through digital platforms even more. It’s because even the greatest house mate, friend, family member or lover will eventually drive a person insane under confined circumstances. Being alone can have its benefits after all. 

The good thing that could come from corona is that we can learn how to deal with symptoms of boredom. Isolation could, for instance, teach us to be more creative, explore some of our hidden talents, and relax our mind a bit more. It might make us more at peace with ourselves, with less need to constantly escape reality, after we’re set free again. Corona could also teach us to sympathize with people on the other side of the planet a bit more often, the way we do now. Because we don’t only want to protect ourselves against a deadly virus, but others too. Similarly, it might be worth considering that we don’t just want humans to live a comfortable life, but animals too. Corona could also make us rethink our current political objectives and the lack of global cooperation. It might, for example, be worth treating other world-wide issues as something that could, in fact, influence us all. If we can fight corona together, we could consider doing the same for economic crises and corruption. It might even cross our mind to start looking after the environment together and make global efforts towards combating climate change. In the end, the environment belongs to all of us, for all to enjoy or all to suffer. Working from home more often and enjoying a bit of clean air wouldn’t be so bad after all. If one thing, corona has proven that we can, indeed, change our ways for the better good.