The RAIN, THE Cloud and the Silver Lining
This rapid pace of change, fuelled by new technologies and an exponential increase in the volume of news and information has created a chasm into which Coronavirus casts a dark shadow of misinformation conspiracy theories and scams. The result is a parallel crisis that influential bodies like the World Health Organisation (WHO) describes as an infodemic.
Like Coronavirus, this companion disease has no known cure and is eating away at our collective wellbeing on every level imaginable. On one side are many who feel disenfranchised, left behind and on the other, a global movement of digitally skilled, super-informed people, connecting and sense-making at the speed of trust. Maybe this could still yet have a silver lining. With this unprecedented combination of pandemic and infodemic, a new spectrum of possibilities has emerged.
Out WITH The Old – In With the Older
Or it might be that it has simply surfaced an existing dynamic. At one end of the spectrum, we have seen hoarding and panic buying, profiteering, and all kinds of “bad behaviours”. Evidence, maybe, of survival stress, stored in the body over time now being triggered by the pandemic. At the same time, there have been amazing expressions of humanity towards the vulnerable and less well off. This disparate range of behavioural and systemic responses is a phenomenon which suggests one thing: we’re in it together. We can’t defer the inconvenience of the 2020 crisis with economic bail-outs. Like it or not, we’re bound by a complex web of circumstances, structures and events, the root causes of which have been incubated over centuries and millennia.
“We grow in the direction of the questions we ask”
Can this crisis be an opportunity to explore new ideas about what it means to be human in the 21st century? Might it open up new avenues for socialised learning and creativity? One of the most encouraging trends emerging from this double-edged calamity is, at long last, powerful digital tools are being embraced for a purpose other than selfies, materialistic endeavour and mindless virtue signalling. Long may it reign.
The restrictive social distancing measures many governments have had to impose have triggered a collective appetite to connect online. With more time available many are engaging with free online courses and directly or indirectly upskilling. The question is how far-reaching the impact will be and does it represent a tipping point? Or is it just further activating people who are already digitally engaged?
“A Sense of Empathy Newly Calibrated for the 21st Century”
One senses the tables have been turned in dramatic fashion in the latest phase of a transformation that has been in progress for some time now. The organisations that serve public needs are having to do so with newly calibrated empathy. They need to understand the personal stories and circumstances beneath the data they have available to them. So where this challenge has up till now been addressed through faceless algorithms and nascent AI technologies and failed, there is a clear need for new paradigms, sewing needles with which to stitch together the social fabrics appropriate for this new climate of uncertainty.
Where the people on the ground are wearing masks and gloves to feel safer and subscribing wholeheartedly to conspiracy theories by tearing down 5G radio masts, it’s a clear signal that one way or another the system is failing. There is in this behaviour compelling correlations with self-harming democratic decisions, misinformed hate-fuelled campaigns towards the vulnerable, and to cap it all fumbled political strategising. The consequence of this failure, if it remains unchecked, is not a further pandemic. Yes, they will continue to manifest over time, but at least we know they will be eventually addressed within the purview of current medical science. No. The greatest risk to society in the future is a scaled-up and mutated infodemic and the prospect of insurmountable social trauma.