Isaac Asimov’s Take on Social Distancing

As more people come down with the coronavirus, the concept of social distancing has been put forward as a way to slow the spread. This reminded me of a story I read a long time ago by Isaac Asimov called “The Naked Sun” where social distancing is taken to the extreme.

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“The Naked Sun” takes place on a planet where everyone is isolated from one another. They use holographic projections to communicate and robots to do their bidding. Wanting to actually view someone in the flesh is considered ‘dirty’. As you can imagine, sexual intimacy is scarce.

So when someone is murdered, imagine the shock and confusion. A human couldn’t do it because they don’t interact with one another. It had to be a robot, but they are programmed with laws to prevent them from harming humans.

I always thought this was an interesting, but unlikely scenario used primarily to set up a fascinating who dunnit situation. Except now I see people calling sick from work, changing from shaking hands to Vulcan greetings or elbow bumps, a jump in home grocery deliveries, working from home, studying/taking tests from home, cancellations of large events, and I think perhaps it isn’t all that unlikely after all if given the right circumstances.

Clearly we aren’t at this level of isolation, but I can imagine a society which became used to cleanliness in space, low population density, and robots to do all the work. Perhaps they experienced contagions before they fled and colonized the new planet.

Could society give up something as fundamental as touch, cuddles, and kisses? I doubt it, but this is an interesting read anyway, not only for the society world building but also for the murder mystery.

By the way, I’m doing fine so far even though Kirkland is a five minute drive from my house. My heart goes out to everyone who has friends or family coming down with this new flu. Let’s hope the warmer weather nips it in the bud.