I have been reading WIRED magazine for a long time now. This publication is keeping up with new technologies, and in particular how tech impacts culture, politics and economy, paving a way for new trends. For an experienced beginner, that is one of the more significant sources of information.
Apart from the online and print edition (the latter of which I have been subscribed to for years, pardon my age), WIRED sends out a number of daily and weekly newsletters that deal with specific topics. One of these is the daily “Tech in Two” newsletter that briefs on global tech developments.
The first thing that popped into the inbox of each subscriber on 16 March this year was an email that WIRED is starting another specialized newsletter dedicated specifically to news surrounding the topic of the Coronavirus, to which one can subscribe to. A day later, subscribers were greeted by another email informing that the “Tech in Two” newsletter was suspended and replaced with the “Coronavirus Update” during the ongoing crisis. The heading clearly stated: “Tech in Two was originally launched to give you the most important news of the day in two minutes or less, but it has become increasingly clear that right now the news you need to know is all about one thing: the global coronavirus pandemic. For now, Tech in Two will be replaced by our new daily newsletter, the Coronavirus Update. Your regular programming will resume, we hope, soon.”
Coronavirus is the major piece of news globally, and rightfully so. However, it seems to be the one and only piece of news, as well. It also seems that the coronavirus pandemic cannot be separated from the coronavirus infodemic. Afterall, the WIRED clearly stated that the news of the coronavirus is the ONLY news we need to know at the moment. This almost sounds like a warning that something is amiss with ourselves if we are to be interested in anything else right now.
WIRED is not the only media that adjusted to the reality of things in such a particular manner. It is part of a massive overhaul of content across all media platforms, that now observes any specialized topic solely through the coronavirus-looking-glass. It goes without saying that the coronavirus pandemic dominates the social media as well in all of its forms – from people acting smart on the topic of what is actually behind all of this, prevention and safety tips, different conspiracy theory scenarios to memes and jokes with varying-degree-of-stupidity.
The world of showbiz and pop culture that feeds on the media presence, fairly quickly caught up with the trend understanding that their popularity now depends on the coronavirus. Some of the influencers decided to switch from duck-face selfies and fit body shots, romantic sunsets, colorful cocktails and exclusive parties to showing how they care for the sick, the medical workers and spread optimism that we are going to get out of all of this better, stronger and younger. Some of those who contracted the virus, spared no time to publicize the news to their fans and followers online, receiving outpours of support instead of usual likes and shares, as if they have only been waiting for the moment to become part of the pandemic. In any event, I wish them all the best of luck in recovering.
But let us get back to the main topic. The pandemic of the coronavirus is more than serious and requires swift and responsible behavior of all – from each individual person to the system and the government institutions, nationally and globally. And it sees that many fail in doing so, for whatever reason. On one hand, it is the objective truth that this is a new virus the world is facing for the first time, bringing a tide of unknown with it. This directly elicits fear with many, which in turn creates grave uncertainty as to how long it will last and how far-reaching it will be.
It is also true that the crisis appeared overnight, with the world being utterly unprepared for it. At the outset, the news on the epidemic in China was met with light disbelief and with an attitude “nah, it will pass soon” and “it ain’t gonna spread here”. Aside from random people having this attitude, most governments around the world failed to properly consider the crisis in China, unknowingly opening the doors when the virus came knocking.
The tipping point was reached in Italy, where the epidemic turned into a true cataclysm. Restrictive measures were implemented overnight in a series of countries – from border closures, to schools and universities shutting down, public events being cancelled, entire sectors in the hospitality industry collapsing, public institutions locking down, radical changes to the functioning of commerce and introduction of the police curfew. Simply put, the life we had until now has stopped.
The severity of measures implemented seems to correspond to the failure to act timely in the crisis, demonstrating subsequently how a responsible approach in the majority of countries would have been sensible from the get-go. As the time goes, more radical measures are being implemented daily around the world. Governments seem to be competing with one another in pushing the measures to new extremes to show how they care more about the well-being of its citizens, compared to others. We are witnessing the fact that this crazy race is still ongoing.
Passing a judgement on whether the measures undertaken are justified or not, is not something that I will do. Not only that this falls outside the scope of my professional competence, but the problem we are facing is still so new and unknown. What we do know, however, is that step by step, we have found ourselves in a completely new world. And of the key signals that it is so, is that coronavirus has transformed from a breaking news globally to the only news we receive.
Coronavirus is the new context in which we exist, live and work, taking on a different meaning and a novel purpose.
Let’s look at the way we work. Working from home was an exception until yesterday, and somewhat cool. Reserved for freelancers, and as an occasional privilege for those with a full-time job. At the moment, working from home has become a predominant way to work, which is completely sensible in the current state of things. Still, I have no doubts that after the crisis winds down, only a portion of people who were forced to work from home will be returning to the offices and the old way of working from a business seat of the company. The business will adapt in the meantime, transforming, allowing the majority of employees to continue to work from home. Companies will embrace the change, as this will lower the price of work and increase the profits. Working from home will not be a matter of free will of employees, or a small privilege, but the only option available for most of them on the “take-it-or-leave-it” principle. Afterall, modern technology is allowing us the flexibility to work together despite being apart.
Here is another example. We have a new term that came into existence with the coronavirus. Social distancing. In the time of the crisis, this term entails all the preventive measures in gathering of large groups, as well as maintaining the physical distance when in proximity to the others. This is a welcome and necessary measure during the pandemic of a virus that is spread through direct contact with a carrier. However, when everything comes to pass, and we continue to mostly work from home, will social distancing become the norm? Physical separation in the time of the crisis does not preclude communication via technology that is almost an extension of our bodies. Being adjusted to that manner of communication now, will probably only serve to keep it for the future as well.
This pandemic will also pass. Coronavirus will stop being the one and only piece of news in the media. Nevertheless, a new world created during this time will remain. Some of the markings of that world can already be felt and recognized, judging by how information technology has already shaped the planet in the past two decades. The changes were big and bold, but happening within a framework we knew and adjusted, understanding them and adapting. Now we are facing a radical leap. We can see the world changing, but we cannot understand the change. The world coming into existence before our eyes is perceived but not understood. That new world we comprehend nothing of, will be the one and only world we have. Whether we like it, or not.