News Detail

Jonathan Kanter is quoted in this Seattle Met article about COVID-19 and the Seattle Freeze

The Future of Social Lives: Could Covid-19 Melt the Seattle Freeze?

Seattle’s known as a city of icy introverts. The pandemic proved otherwise, even as we socially distanced.

By Zoe Sayler  8/4/2020 

WHEN GOVERNOR INSLEE ordered Washington to “Stay Home, Stay Safe,” Seattle—a city where we avert our eyes when we pass a stranger on the sidewalk—took to it like a charm. Soon we were zigzagging across streets to avoid passersby and chastising frisbee players on social media, our reclusive tendencies at their peak. Walks with friends, if we dared, became physical demonstrations of like-poled magnets; grocery excursions looked like Tetris competitions for aisle space. In a city already known for its icy introversion, would the symptoms of our newfound enforced distancing ever go away?

At the beginning of this crisis, many of us were predicting a wave of loneliness to wash over our society. It didn’t quite materialize that way. 

Jonathan Kanter thinks so. The director of the University of Washington’s Center for the Science of Social Connection believes most of us will easily adjust as restrictions are lifted, our initial squeamishness at hugging friends and standing near strangers dissipating as quickly as our social lives were constricted by boarded up bar windows and patrolled city parks.

“At the beginning of this crisis, many of us”—he’s talking social scientists, here—“were predicting a wave of loneliness to wash over our society,” Kanter says. That concerned him: Loneliness has lasting physical effects, including a greater impact on mortality than smoking 15 cigarettes per day, according to a study by psychologists at Brigham Young University. But Kanter says “it didn’t quite materialize that way.” Loneliness makes sense under the terms of the Seattle Freeze: It’s a phenomenon where “you feel outside the group but the group itself is intact.” Coronavirus created a different sort of environment. Everyone was suddenly cut off from a group that no longer existed. We were alone together.

Read the entire article here.