Our Culture of Immediacy Is a Challenge in the Fight Against Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic has already reshaped our lives, and every day, it continues to reshape our future.
Self-isolation and social distancing now define the routine of billions of people across the globe. Hospitals are either struggling to cope with the surge of patients, or preparing for an incoming wave of sick. Governments face the challenge of minimizing the impact of essentially shutting down their countries’ economy from 15 days to a month.
And no one really knows what the right answer is; not with absolute certainty.
Scientists and researchers all over the world are coming up with models to predict how far the disease will spread, and how many people it will kill, but these are constantly challenged as the situation develops and new information about the virus becomes available. Countries are testing for coronavirus at different rates, and under different criteria, making it difficult to know with certainty what percentage of the population is infected. Therefore, they cannot determine what the actual mortality rate are.
We’re being asked to stay home and wait. While the “stay home” part might not be so hard, the waiting part has definitely been a challenge for many.
“Just as we are able to find the location of a restaurant in less than five seconds on a mobile map, we expect complex human processes to occur in the blink of an eye.” — Luis E. Romero
In the age of connectivity, we’ve developed a culture of immediacy and instant gratification. We’re used to having the answer to our questions at our fingertips, and we’re no longer comfortable with waiting for a response on anything.
We’re no longer comfortable with being wrong. We rely on our phones to both feed and validate our knowledge. We don’t last in uncertainty, we google, and we proudly present our phone screens to our friends at the bar — “see, it’s exactly what I just said.”
A global pandemic is, unsurprisingly, an anxiety inducing event. There’s too much we don’t know yet, and as the questions pile up, so do our fears. How long will this last? Can we find a cure? How quickly can we develop a vaccine? Will there be a second wave, and if so, how bad will it be?
We don’t have definitive answers to these questions yet. The uncertainty is made worse by the unrelenting stream of information we have access to 24/7. We have access to news coverage from around the world, and even though most news outlets claim to be impartial, some can’t help but to expose their biases.
Depending on where you look, President Trump is either doing an excellent job, or is leading the US into a record-breaking coronavirus mortality rate. Depending on where you look, Italy has either reached the peak of the pandemic, and is about to see a decline; or is nowhere near the peak, and the worst is yet to come.
The overload of information (not always reliable), coupled with our impulse to have an opinion about everything, creates fertile ground for obsessive thinking and the sharing of unfiltered thoughts. The temptation to give a platform to whomever screams the loudest is tough to resist. That’s how alarmists and extremists (on polar-opposite sides) gain the spotlight — and thousands of people echo their opinions before the real experts get a chance to act.
You know what doesn’t help our mental state during this age of immediacy and instant gratification? Fear and uncertainty. They only help fuel the angry internet mobs that form in bubbles, inside platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Whatsapp. From there, public opinion takes shape and turns into public pressure on politicians, always hungry for approval, and thinking of the next election.
“We have developed a culture of immediacy that has made us impatient and, in the long term, could also make us incompetent.” Luis E. Romero
When a crisis hits, emergency preparedness is what we expect from our governments. We expect prompt, decisive action in the interest of saving lives and minimizing danger, and we’re ready to judge them harshly should they fail — and rightly so. But our politicians are being pressured by a society whose opinions are formed not only by an overload of information which it can barely begin to sort, but by a simmering pot of anxious opinions and misinformation (just think about how your Twitter or Facebook feeds have been looking like lately).
Polarization has reached the coronavirus debate, in which those defending the end of social distancing and the return to normal life oppose those who defend the quarantine be extended with no end in sight. Next to those extreme views, nuanced debate seems nearly impossible.
Regardless of nationality, we’re all anxious. We’re all apprehensive about what our governments might do next, and about the impact of those decisions in both our current health and future livelihood.
We want a definitive solution, right now. We want the answer to be simple, easy to implement, and to provide the best possible outcome — not unlike everyday issues we’re used to googling. That’s impossible. Besides, our impatience and our anxiety might be making any good solution even more elusive.
These are dangerous times, but not only because of the virus. Our response to this very unique challenge will also be shaped by the current zeitgeist, for better or for worse.