I don’t believe in curfews, because you can’t treat men like they were boys without forfeiting a certain level of trust.– Phil Jackson, American former professional basketball player and coach
We have spent tremendous time and effort trying to put down our devices.
All of that seems so long ago now. Today, we watch the world unfold from our living rooms on laptops, tablets and phones. Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to stay home simply wait here, as instructed, to find out what happens next.
Everything is cancelled but it’s never been busier on our screens.
As soon as I was told to stay at home last Wednesday, I was glued to my Facebook feeds. I had visited news sites, but they didn’t update fast enough. Some of them poured out a constant stream of news content, not enough to satisfy me and just enough to keep me coming back.
At first social media was cool, and then I started dismissing it as a waste of time. Now it’s transformed into an essential resource, for participating in the community we need, even when it gets absurd.
So I sit here, hitting refresh.
I watch Minister of Health Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba describe, in harrowing detail, that the virus cannot take heat, and that the warm water would also flush virus into the stomach.
Refresh: A woman I met in the seminar recently is achieving “social distance” over a glass of wine alone on a ski slope in Switzerland.
Scroll down: A supermodel preaches passionately for vegetarianism because, she explains, coronavirus came from pangolins. Scroll further: My friend laments her cancelled marathon (but she understands it had to happen). Further: Italians under lockdown sing into the streets at night.
The internet is filling plenty of gaps right now. It’s serving us information we desperately need, especially when it’s lacking from official channels.
As I observed over the weekend, the voices of medical staff, especially Director General of Health Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, on social media provided a vital antidote to those of confused and complacent political leaders.
This time, the only way out is to isolate, in one place, with as few people as we can manage. Under these circumstances, we are both blessed and cursed to have our screens, with the unlimited, and uncurated, connections they provide.
The content blends together with dizzying speed and not much consistency. But it validates the idea that something important is happening, something terrible but hopefully bearable even as many of our actual lives grow narrower and more tiresome than ever (assuming we manage to stay healthy). We can feel surrounded by people while being completely alone.
Going online right now is necessary but that doesn’t mean the internet has suddenly grown up, that it’s prepared to take on this new and weighty responsibility.
We still take in the news we need next to epidemiologists’ analyses next to anxiety posts, next to sexy selfies, from friends and celebrities like TV host and actor Azwan Ali who haven’t toned down their online personas to align with the frustration the headlines demand.
You have to sort through the posts and vet them on your own. Even a checkmark isn’t enough for what I seek, which is reassurance that someone’s in charge. Azwan Ali is hilarious, but should we be heeding his movement restriction order advice? Or should we be following Dr Adham Baba’s?
Twitter suffers from its usual cesspool dynamics, but they’re now amplified by the crisis: people posting carelessly about their right to do whatever they want, other people yelling at them, still other people sharing their reasons for panic, all contributing to our mounting anxiety.
TikTok’s memes, in contrast, have been a delightful unifier since the virus sent much of countries into lockdown recently.
And on Instagram last week, sexy selfies gradually gave way to comfort dogs, visual depictions of self-care, increasingly messy apartments producing increasingly fancy meals, and hashtag-laced captions urging caution.
Occasionally a photo would pop up of a group of people defiantly calling themselves undefeated, as though the coronavirus was a terrorist and that if we just stand close enough together it will not win.
Most sites I follow gradually shifted their content to a chorus of coronavirus and self-isolation. Some brands have seized the opportunity to pivot their products to some kind of “work from home leisure.”
On Saturday night I was invited to a hangout; it eventually got moved to the videoconferencing platform Zoom, a video calling app and jokingly referred to ourselves as “Zoomers”. People bought beer and wine and drank it wherever they’d decided to sit out the pandemic, dialed into their laptops and chatted.
After that, a Whatsapp message came in and read “Susu Hayek habis”
I called my wife and asked what she was doing. We decided to go for a quick shopping at Emart.
We didn’t touch anything unnecessarily, and we kept our distance from everyone else, although we waved hello to a bunch of perfect strangers. It was so nice outside that we forgot to bring our phones.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.