Thinking of Italy, with deep angst. All of the social and economic structures that existed before covid-19 are faltering.
By Nelly Ramirez (Confidencial)
“It is not the strongest species that survive nor the most intelligent, no it is the most flexible and ones who adapt to change.” -Charles Darwin, 1862
HAVANA TIMES – A few days ago, I was looking at pictures of a man walking down the street with a flock of pigeons following him full speed, to the point where he had to take shelter at the corner.
A month ago, it was common to see photographs of tourists in the European plazas surrounded by pigeons. The pigeons that used to live off bread crumbs that people would leave in the street now desperately search for food. Something so minute made me think about how our whole ecosystem has been disrupted.
Each one of use, isolated in our spaces, in a constant struggle with time, that now seems to take place in a much more limited area. Moms and dads are reinventing themselves with each moment to reduce the impact that enclosure has on their children.
Families create new codes for living together and coexisting, and those of us who choose to live solitary lives are rethinking our decisions. These may be the reflections of privileged people while the rest of the world (the majority) is busy making a list of what remains in order to survive and how many days we can “realistically” contend with the impact of this quarantine.
Sleeping with a knot in one’s stomach and awaking with a prayer. With all of our social and economic structures faltering, for many countries this is not an abstraction—it has a real human face.
The future arrived more quickly. Working online, the virtualization of mass events, structured collaborative efforts to co-create and share information online such as telemedicine, virtual education and the automation of manufacturing (just for starters), the police state “protecting” the community with data from cell phones, food printed on 3-D printers, robots giving medical care, digital identification, just to name a few of the exotic advancements of the developed economies or the controversial “millenials.” From one night to the next day, schools had to close their doors and re-design themselves, adapting to the online modality.
This avalanche of changes are part of the daily discussions in all countries and form part of the “new world” where we have suddenly landed. One friend invited me to her birthday celebration via Zoom while another friend who is 60 years old called to complain about not knowing how to use Zoom. All these years he’s had a secretary and now he can’t even turn a computer on.
The current situation forced him to learn quickly so he could get together with his team for a videoconference on Friday. At the same time, his kids at home are struggling with this thing called “online education.” Another friend, in order to feel closer to his teenager that lives in another country, recommended some sites for virtual reality in which they share and build something together in the same space, using virtual reality head-sets.
For the countries who have already incorporated this “futuristic” way of life, the transition will be easier that for the rest of the so-called “developing nations” or better stated, living in poverty. For these countries, it will be harder to accommodate these changes at the same rate, even if it’s a matter of life or death. The gaps that used to be measured in terms of economic metrics are now measured in terms of those who have access to the “new world” and those who are condemned to remain behind.
But even for developed nations, this crisis represents great challenges. The technology is only the medium, but what is actually changing is the dominant culture—the fabric of our social and political structures. One particular challenge is the border between ethics and technology which will become a philosophical discussion on the top of the agenda without global transcendence.
The countries that utilized data for tracking their citizens for control of the spread of the virus have been the most successful at containing it, such is the case in China, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Israel and South Korea. In Europe and other western nations, they can spend years arguing about it without coming to an agreement.
I don’t question the right to privacy, but some emergency situations should be considered beforehand. One thing is certain, for the larger economies, the lengthy bureaucratic response is no joke when you’re talking in terms of survival. The majority of our institutions, at least those that operate on a global scale, will become obsolete if they do not manage to adapt.
Orwell said the most important thing is not to keep ourselves alive but to keep ourselves human. On a scale even larger than human history, we are a species with remarkable destructive capabilities. For homo sapiens to reign supreme, we destroyed things everywhere.
There is something in our DNA that makes us destructive and greedy, and today we are experiencing the consequences (simultaneously and globally). Regardless, as the futurist Jamie Metzl has said, this pandemic that moves at the speed of globalization also offers up many solutions and tools that we can bring to this struggle which our ancestors could never have imagined.
This situation permits us to slow down, set our priorities straight and reconsider what we believe is valuable and “humane.” Physical contact, romance, sharing a meal, attending a concert or play, making love, working as a team, that lady who smiles at the store, a hug from colleagues, sharing in family time, kissing the kids…these are no longer things we can take for granted. What might we do collectively to preserve these privileges?
Some years back institutions with masters and doctoral programs in the science of happiness, were started, something seemingly exotic to some. Today, what we see revealed by this pandemic is that life is more fragile than we thought and for it to be worthwhile, we must collectively learn how to be “happy” in every way.
Meanwhile, let’s return to our quarantine, listening to the tick tock of our subconscious warning us that we have not even crested the wave, and once the storm passes, we will have tumbled down into the “new world.”