Welcome back to ‘How Do We Really Feel?’, where we dig deep into the nation’s feelings using our self-taught AI mood tracker along with our weekly focus groups.
Moving into Phase 2 of the country’s return to a sense of normality, we’re back this week with a view on how we are feeling as a nation through the ups and the downs and the peaks and the troughs of life as we currently know it. As always, we have been monitoring emotion through our Mood Tracker, as well as talking directly to two different cohorts of people in Ireland to really get under the skin of the tensions that Covid-19 has brought about. So without further ado, let’s dive right in...
Audience understanding: Urban versus Rural
This week we’ve taken a look at two groups who are often considered to be very different. In many ways they are at odds with each other and have fundamentally contrasting lifestyles but strangely enough, given our current situation, there are a lot of similarities. We spoke separately to those considered urban living (in cities like Dublin, Galway, Cork and Limerick) and those classified to be more rural living (in counties like Mayo, Offaly, Wicklow and Clare). We also asked which would be their preference right now and (spoiler alert!) people feel like those living rurally right now are best placed for our situation.
So for this week as we have two separate audiences, we’ll first look at four of the differences between the two groups in this current situation. We’ll then highlight a few key similarities. Finally, we’ll have some closing thoughts on consistent themes moving into our "new normal" (we really have to come up with a better term for this!).
1Cities can feel a palpable shift of what once was.
For those living in cities - it has become a drastically different world. Busy hotspots, such as Temple Bar, have become empty, with one person explaining, "it’s just a ghost town now." For another, there is a palpable feeling that something major has changed and looking out from their sixth floor window, they see a constant reminder of what’s shifted.
Much about why people live in cities has been removed for the time being. The energy, the people, the culture, the food... it’s all just been put on pause. Lots of those we talked with have discussed moving since if this is our “new normal” until who knows when, the great parts about city living potentially won’t be accessible for some time.
This was noticeably different in our conversations with the rural community - with one person even saying "life just hasn’t really changed." The term 'dystopian' came up many times talking to the urban participants, whereas it didn’t really come up at all with the rural group. However, with things like the GAA being put on hold, interactions across all groups was changed.
2Living spaces are incredibly different.
For these two audiences, living situations were incredibly different in relation to their own personal space. Most living in the city have a smaller physical situation, but also that means generally less people in an apartment. Those we spoke with living more rural often had more people in their places, with family members cocooning with them. There are clear pros and cons for both of these situations, but it was like they were living two different lives right now.
Generally speaking those living rurally felt bad for those living in cities and overall those living in the city wished at this point they were more rural. One of our participants living in Offaly explained, "People must just feel trapped living in a city. There’s such a sense of freedom where I live, big wide open space... it would really affect my mental health not being able to do some of the normal things."
3People proximity means alternative realities.
"I love living in the countryside, I don’t have to deal with any people at all. It’s a wave to the neighbours and that’s really it.”
Whereas those living in cities are constantly avoiding people wherever they can. "Obeying the rules" was much more of a discussion in cities, as it’s much easier to not obey the rules. Even walking in the city can be difficult given narrow paths and as one person explains,
"I’m just frustrated with groups of younger and older people outside, feels selfish and makes me wonder why I’m still following guidelines if they’re not."
It wasn’t as much of an issue for those living rurally, however different problems presented themselves - with some feeling more pressure to have interaction with family living close by, because that would be very difficult to enforce. And for those living truly rurally, loneliness was definitely more of a concern if there wasn’t a bigger family unit in their household.
4There is a difference across individuals about “blame.”
Overall it depended on the person and the mindset, but there wasn’t an us versus them mentality in relation to these two groups of people. There was a couple from the rural living category, who wondered (in hindsight) if this could have been stopped earlier: "Definitely feel like it was coming across to us from the likes of Dublin, perhaps if they had done those restrictions earlier we wouldn’t be in our current situation."
However most understood that coronavirus could have been anywhere and that peoples’ behaviours could mean continuing the spread anywhere, like one person explaining how a meat factory in Mayo lead to an infection across so much of the town. When asking those living in urban places, they did think that there was a perception that people in cities were the ones to blame and wondered if this could lead to frustration and anger in the future, once more of this situation pans out. There also was a sense of difference in terms of enforcement with someone rurally explaining, "you don’t feel like you’re being monitored as much in the country."
1What even are days now?
This is something that’s continuously coming up in groups and will likely continue until more and more places opens up again. For people no matter where they are, it seems like everything is converging into one. Homes have been converted to being everything - workspaces, gyms, restaurants, theatres and so much of it centres around a screen.
Even just separating what days are was difficult for all of these groups. "The work week rolls on, never really sure what day it is, it’s hard to switch off and then weekends are gone so quickly - it’s all rolling into one. These months have crept by but also flew by at the same time."
2The virus doesn’t really discriminate and not many places are "safe."
There was only a small sense of "blame" that people in cities brought the virus across to other pockets of the country, with a few people bringing up initial travel in the beginning stages of this situation. But overall, the clear understanding was that everywhere feels very much like a potential place to "get it".
This meant some concern across all groups around Irish travel. People thought perhaps islands would be a great place to take a staycation once it’s allowed, but there’s concern if outsiders would even be let in right now. Even though there are just generally more people living in a city and more instances in some ways of contact, the resounding feeling was that everywhere could be a potential place to contract, which in some ways was an equalizer for people.
3Nature, in any form, is a welcome place for all.
The type of nature between these two groups was quite different (fields versus a square of green), but the concept was resoundingly required. Moments in nature was such a time of relief for people and allowed them to forget about the ongoing crisis - not even just with this pandemic but with all of the other issues brought about by 2020.
The sense of gratitude for this weather and moments outside was wonderful. One participant explained,
"I live in an apartment. It would have been so nice to have a garden through all of this to sit outside like in the country. But at the very least I have a local park near me which is one of the only places I feel like I can properly relax."
For some in cities parks could be a source of anxiety due to the sheer number of people, but overall nature provides a much-needed escape, especially for those living in the middle of apartment blocks.
Final thoughts moving into the next stage
This week sees us entering the next phase of the government’s plan and will mean slight shifts closer to a life that we once knew. After over two months of research talking to audiences, there have been continuous themes coming up in discussion and these came to the fore at the end of our discussions.
Carrying on the way we are for the time being.
Each phase has brought some changes for people - some are more affected than others. And some are very concerned that most people have gotten very complacent and are starting to very much ignore the guidelines. But then even as those guidelines shift, based on where you are it can be a huge difference or miniscule. For instance, distance restrictions are more relevant for those in cities versus those living rurally.
And right now, big plans haven’t been made yet. People are waiting to see if things shift and with the possibility of phases being pushed back (or brought forward) people are a little reluctant to book things like domestic holidays. They’re also wondering about when places like pubs re-open - what will they even look like and how do we navigate this new world?
But realities of our situation are settling in and demand for adapted life is here.
As it’s now been nearly three months of living life in lockdown, the truth is settling in that this isn’t going away and isn’t just temporary. For some, they essentially just want to "put things on hold" until we resume - but for others they are shifting their current lives to adapt to living in the now.
There are obvious physical things like people buying desks to cram into their one-bed apartments (like me, as I write now not from my kitchen table for the first time) but also adapting to spending time really differently and redetermining how their time is spent. Brands that are recognising this are being called out - with local food places consistently being brought up as innovating to meet the needs of people now. Rather than reflecting back how people are feeling, bringing new solutions to life now or ways out of the monotony are very welcomed.
Desire to bring lessons we’ve learnt into our next phases.
Nearly every week in Inside Out we’ve looked at different positive lessons we’ve all taken away and what some of the changes for the better are as a result of this situation. This is something that continues to be a theme moving forward, that people don’t want to shift back entirely to what once was.
It will be hard to know what will actually stick, what behaviours people will want to be changed - but either way this has been a time of forced reflection and there is a desire from most people to take into the future some of what we’ve learned now. Our final word from one of the conversations is the perfect close for this week’s report - "I hope we don’t fuck about and live like we were before."
As we roll into Phase 2 of the government’s plan to return the country to a sense of "normality" over the coming weeks and months, we’ve been keeping an eye on shifts in feelings and mood, and the ‘why’ behind these different emotions that we are feeling as a nation.
Here below, we can see the most up-to-date mood tracker at the time of pulling this report:
Encouragingly, we notice that there has been some significant spikes in positive feelings of optimism. As a nation we were feeling particularly positive on May 25th when news was announced that there were no new confirmed coronavirus deaths in the country that day. Optimism also rose the day it was announced that the European Commission has proposed a major Covid-19 recovery plan. People are optimistic about being able to see a light at the end of the tunnel,"this is fantastic, it’s about time we get back to some sort of normality now!”, with some believing that "dragging this into August is absolute insanity."
On the flip side of this, many others are eager to note that we have not reached the "finish line" of Covid-19, and that people should not be ignoring all measures, which people are angrily pointing out is "disrespectful to our front line heroes." As such, there is a real division in how we are feeling - some of us happy to get back to normal as quickly as possible, while others are feeling we cannot become complacent during these early days of the restoration of the country.
As we continue to navigate our way through this new world, we are also seeing many posts becoming more light-hearted and humorous in nature - people are in disbelief that life is actually for real now: "plot sorted, just have to name it now...", "2020 is a series finale, has to be." With each new trial and tribulation thrown our way, as serious as we realise they are, social media is giving us a light sense of reprieve.