Right now, New Zealand feels like the country I grew up in during the 90s.
Since the global upheaval that began with the Trump/Brexit cacophony circa 2016, we've all been romanticising the 90s. We've looked back at it fondly – it was a time of economic prosperity, hedonism, exciting technological modernisation and relative world peace.
As an older child/teenager in the 90s, however, New Zealand was the last place on the planet me and any of my peers wanted to be. New Zealand felt like a backwater.
New Zealand in the 90s was an obscure nation people thought was in Scandinavia, it took six months for films to reach our cinemas, and the concept of international travel (though possible) was extremely expensive.
We were barraged by American media – especially through teen high-school movies, which were very popular at the time – and saw a world we were missing out on. "Why can't we move to America?" I remember asking my parents on several occasions as a naive tween. "They have everything there. New Zealand is boring."
Though post-lockdown life has returned our country to normality in theory (there are zero restrictions on lifestyle in-country), there's one big change to the way New Zealand will continue to feel for the rest of 2020, into 2021, and who knows how much longer. It has that insular 90s feeling again.
New Zealand is a country already difficult to get to, and now – and for many months or years to come – nobody is budging on our borders, so it remains impossible to come or go. This is cause for claustrophobia.
The continued border closure is for the good of the nation, without a doubt. But I'm struggling with the concept long-term. When John Donne wrote "No Man is an Island" in the 17th century, he was arguing for human interconnectedness and against isolation. But New Zealand not only is a literal island, now we're acting like it again.
We're protecting our people and preventing our going back into lockdown, but aren't we just prolonging the inevitable? We are removing ourselves from the "new normal" to which the rest of the world is becoming accustomed. Unlike everyone else, our behaviour is not changing.
Our business leaders are not imagining the unthinkable. Our workers are not demanding better conditions. We have forgotten about the benefits of social distancing, contact tracing and frequent sanitation of public areas, the remote office has already died, and our capitalist consumption mentality is right back up there. Instead of looking forward, we are looking back and trying to hold on to what was; risking becoming the bumpkins we used to feel like in the 90s.
Globalisation over the past 20-25 years is what's made New Zealand great. A haven of "quieter living" with all the perks of being globally connected and included. Yet we're not connected and while the rest of the world opens up to one another – understanding the realities of living with a virus – and we don't ... we might be forgotten about.
What's more, with word from the Prime Minister last week that travellers should soon expect to pay for their own forced hotel quarantining, international travel will once again be something for only the rich. Just as it was during the 90s (and decades up until then) until budget airlines revolutionised the marketplace. This returns us to a place where global access is for the few, not the many.
Don't get me wrong, I am loving the freedoms of being in New Zealand right now – having bars and clubs back, not wearing a face mask, shaking hands. Yet life in New Zealand feels static and there's a sense of anxiety about that. This current Kiwi mode can't go on forever.
It's as if we are an aircraft in a holding pattern. Circling around and around, watching what's happening on the ground, never deciding to land. Is that sustainable? What happens when, psychologically, New Zealanders run out of fuel? When we decide we can no longer stand being isolated and want to continue being a prosperous part of the global community, not something that has removed itself from the world?
Sociologically, continuing to act like the island(s) we are may signal our decline. Everybody else is moving on and finding new ways of living their lives, which – for years to come – will see innovation, resilience, and emotional and physical development. What's happening now is metaphysical evolution. The world will evolve (and people with it) as it did after the two world wars, and then it will be a decade ahead of us. Just like the 90s, we will feel "behind", provincial and left out.
That's not the New Zealand I want for my future. I have a long time left on this planet, and I want to be part of a post-corona era, not stuck thinking things were better Way Back When. What New Zealand is doing with its unwavering closed borders is a short-term plan past its expiration date. We've done a good job of being responsible for the health of our people, but we can't keep sitting pretty. We're about to miss out on what's next.