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Please don’t touch me

It’s a scientifically proven fact that Argentines like to be close to each other. A study conducted by researchers from more than 59 universities from across the globe on ‘personal space’ in different cultures, published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology in 2017, determined that Argentines are the most comfortable people in the world with physical closeness.

An Argentine, the study says, becomes animated when bringing his body as close to a stranger as a  Canadian only would to a partner. Yes, we Argentines like to get that close. It’s all because we grow up with close physical contact, with touching, kisses and hugs.
However, we are not alone in believing contact is good.

For example: Argentines greet each other with a kiss on the cheek, while Spaniards give each other two and the French, three. Americans, though they are generally thought to be cold, still touch when greeting each other: they shake hands. And when Donald Trump took office, the hug former First Lady Michelle Obama gave former President George W. Bush caused a sensation. It was taken as a sign that,  despite the country's great polarization, there was still good will in American politics.

Physical contact has always been seen as something good. In fact, it is proven to build trust and cement relationships. There is nothing like being able to shake a hand or look someone in the eyes to feel that we know them better.

But suddenly, as 2020 dawned, we could no longer touch each other. Every kiss turned overnight into those of the spider woman: they threaten to entrap and consume us. Seeing each other in person, shaking hands, hugging - especially with strangers – are now forbidden actions.

It’s even possible that the need to keep one's distance will outlast  the crisis. Even the habit of shaking hands may have to change forever, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leader of U.S. response to the health crisis.

COVID-19 has brutally separated us. So little are we allowed to touch each other today , that the most we can do is bumping elbows. How boring!

All that was good before is now bad. In fact, so bad it can even kill us.

But deep down, we are lucky. We are living in the digital age and thanks to technology, we are all hyperconnected. We can turn to virtual spaces to see and talk with each other.
It seems physical contact was therefore not as vital as we thought.

Yet all these years, marketing, businesses and politicians sold us on the idea that the important thing  was to be able to be close to each other, to touch, to embrace. Advertisements for a diverse range of products used the idea of physical contact to bring excitement to their messages: friends hugging at a bar sold Quilmes beer, a wooing couple advertised a BMW. Politicians  -even those who embraced  social media like Trump or former Argentine president Mauricio Macri- favored speeches in front of crowds and visits to voters' homes and businesses. Even Amazon started opening stores.

But the pandemic has shown us a new reality. It put an end to the discussion of whether technology helps us or not, whether it is something good or bad. Technology helped us survive. It is the first remedy for COVID-19 and it saved our lives. We discovered that we had something much deeper than physical contact: we had connection.

In life, as it is in business, contact (be it physical or digital) is just the first step. Underneath mere contact, there is a much deeper layer. It is about knowing and wanting to establish a true connection, something authentic and human. This great lesson is what we have gained from the pandemic.

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