Orwellian echoes of a pandemic

Here comes an unusual post from me: a look into how technology once considered out of Sci-Fi could help in the present troubling times, and some other thoughts on the current situation.

Not a 1984?

I’ve called this post ‘Orwellian echoes’ so let’s get to that part first. We live in a world where technology makes distances almost irrelevant. Where people leave maybe more traces in the digital world than the real one. Many major cities have cameras on crossroads, in public transport. Using digital payment is common these days – just wave your bank card to pay bus (or taxi) fare, weekly shopping, the parcel from other end of the world…

…yet using this technology for a good end isn’t really a thing. Not as easily. Yes, laws to protect privacy are a good thing but the technology we have could be used to fight against an outbreak by tracing people who are verified cases and finding ‘digital overlaps’ with other people.

My country calls it ‘intelligent quarantine’ and it’s the stage that should follow the current lockdown in a few weeks – instead of strict limitations, the data banks have from card payments and cell phone operators have will be used to track where infected people were up to a week ago and who could’ve they possibly met. A good use of technology, though with some ethical dilemmas.

And coming too late. As soon as Italy became the major hotspot in Europe, some first measures were taken. Many people on the rich end of populace go skiing to Italy – and many of them avoided the 14-day quarantine. How is this known? From cell phone and bank card data. Which will only be used for this purpose more than a month later, after the patched-up emergency laws and procedures will allow it, when the worst should (hopefully) be behind us.

Art in quarantine

Some people might think that the lockdowns in some countries could be a golden time for writers. People forced to stay at home means they might have some extra time for reading. Entice them with a discount, and get easy money?

But do they have the mood for reading?

Well, that doesn’t probably have an universal answer. For some, reading might not be light enough form of entrtainment during these times – if they’re stressed by the impact of the outbreak (and the potential of losing their job), reading might slide even lower on their priority list. Not to mention that such situations lead people to consider what they need to spend their money on.

And since I am (though I reluctant to call myself one) a writer: how many writers will be in the mood to write in the current situation? I managed to get some writing days – but it might be because I’ve turned into a stoic person over time. And because it’s a way to escape for me.

Back to the future

Now, to how I started this post: the technology we have now was considered a Sci-Fi a few decades ago. Yet here we are. What will the current situation teach us, if anything?

And will it impact Sci-Fi in any way? The Earth faced many viral threats in the past years – the ebola outbreak in Africa or the Zika virus four years ago. None came close in their impact to the current situation.

And in a globalized world, with cheap flights and open borders… it’s a new situation. Some time ago, people could only guess how the world would react to a global outbreak. Now, we have very clear picture and a palette of approaches from very bad to some relatively good.

Can the current situation, especially once it’s over and we’ve seen the whole story, serve as an inspiration and a blueprint for writers who would want to write a story based on an outbreak scenario? I think it can – it’s always easier to ‘draw’ from real examples than from speculation.

Fear and greed vs. altruism and improvisation

The situation across the globe differs drastically. Face masks soared in prices. In some places, people hoard anything from toilet paper to lasting food.

In other, people share guides on how to make your own face mask from stuff you might have at home – or even make them from their own leftover materials to share with family, co-workers, or even strangers in need.

Discipline is another aspect – some people will understand the reasoning behind the harsh restrictions and follow them to the point. Others will only do so once they get a costly reminder from the police.

I think it’s possible (and likely) that the current situation will be a source for researches in many fields – from sociology through geography to economy, to name a few. And a maybe reason to reflect on where humanity is going.

I’ll wrap it up here – but it’s not over. Feel free to share your thoughts on any of the topics I’ve mentioned or just to share your opinion on the current situation. Or ask how I approach it, if that’s what you wish.

And stay safe, even if you have to improvise. Such as wrapping anything suitable you find in the depths of your wardrobe around your face while going on with your life as normally as possible.

See you next time.

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