Waking up on 23 March 2020 to a surreal new reality, it felt like we were in a scene from a film: let’s call it Locked Down in London. Except this was not a disturbing nightmare or one of those apocalyptic TV serials. This was really happening. ‘Well, this is all a bit postnormal,’ I thought. But then I didn’t really understand, let alone appreciate what postnormal times was all about. Despite my best efforts to learn about complexity, contradictions and chaos, it was all too speculative for my evidently arrested development to contend with.
Of course, some of it did make sense. It’s true that history is accelerating in a way that was incomprehensible half a century ago, perhaps even a couple of decades ago. Things that used to take months or years, such as receiving a message from someone on the other side of the world, are now occurring over days, maybe even seconds. But aren’t ‘these times’ always postnormal, in the eyes of every generation? My six-year-old nephew often asks me what life was like in The Olden Days and I am in awe of my nine-year-old niece’s tech savvy that far outstrips anything I am capable of even now, never mind when I was her age. Life seemed a little postnormal before it became, like, really, post-normal. For the physicist Carlos Rovelli, all of reality is a consequence of interaction, negating entirely the notion of ‘here’ and ‘now’, because there is no such thing as the directional flow of time, or even the existence of time; fundamental physics after all, does not distinguish between past and future. He argues that it is far better to understand the world as ‘happenings’, as we know the rate that time passes varies according to altitude and speed. By viewing time in this way, we create space for the complexity of our existences, our emotions, and our approach to what we otherwise perceive of as the ‘normal’ passing of time.