It’s been 48 days since I wrote the last blog post on this website (wrote on 23rd February). From that time to now, a lot of things have drastically changed in the world. The world has witnessed a new pandemic in the form of the novel coronavirus. Almost a million people infected and more than 10000 died till now. No one knows how many more lives will die off the virus.
I have been reading from various sources about the virus and its implications. Though, reading or watching a lot of content about the pandemic does not serve any purpose except creating fear in your mind. On top of that, there are fake news circulating everywhere. The real knowledge is lost in this age of information.
This reminds me of one of the quotes from T. S Eliott
“Where is the life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
Wherever I go people talk about the virus, news channels are showing the same news 24/7, internet is full of same content and conspiracy theories of experts. Sometimes it feels like someone wants to hijack peoples brain by repeatedly exposing to the same content.
No doubt it’s a tough time for us but consuming the same content throughout the day will not produce anything worthwhile except fear and depression. Of course, you should know what’s going on in the world but give priority to quality instead of quantity. Check the source of the information, whether it is reliable or not.
Remember knowledge removes darkness and ignorance but a little knowledge or fake knowledge is even more fatal than ignorance. A few days back I saw a tweet from Yuval Noah Harari. He is a historian, author of bestselling books, philosopher ( and one of my favorite human beings). Here is his tweet
In an ideal world one would expect people to learn a little bit about the science of viruses, what is it? How it causes disease? How it causes pandemics?
Nonetheless, we are not living in such an ideal world and we are imperfect people. However, we are very fortunate to live in this era.
See, such pandemics are nothing new to the world. In the 14th century there was ‘Black Death’ which killed almost 200 million people worldwide, in the 16th century there was smallpox then great plague, cholera, Spanish flu came one by one. For your convenience look at the list below-
Imagine all those times when millions of people were dying due to a virus but they didn’t have any clue why they were dying. All they used think was about some evil demons as the reason for the pandemics.
But today we know about the existence of viruses and bacteria. It took just two weeks to identify the novel coronavirus, sequence its genome, and to develop a reliable test to recognize infected people. We are already developing vaccines for the coronavirus.
It’s not the incident or event but your response to that event defines you. Soon this pandemic will be over but the world we used to see will not be the same. I am really curious about the concomitant upshot of this novel virus on our forthcoming world.
And we are going to witness a world we have never seen before. The choices we make now will affect the world we will inhabit once the storm passes.
Prof. Harari discussed beautifully about the post coronavirus world in one of his articles. Where he specifically said-
“In this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.”
His contemplation is indeed very interesting and I will reflect upon his thoughts-
1. Totalitarian surveillance Vs Citizen empowerment
By this time you must have realized that in order to prevent the spread of this pandemic entire global population needs to obey certain guidelines (such as social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands time and again).
There are two ways to achieve this. And we are somehow seeing both ways to be operating in the world.
One way for governments is to monitor people and punish people who break the rules. This is what we have seen in some countries such as China. What was believed to be science fiction a year ago, that is true today.
Today the government can keep an eye on all the citizens with the help of technology. By closely monitoring people’s smartphones, with the help of hundreds of millions of face-recognizing cameras, and forcing people to screen their body temperature and medical condition, governments can quickly identify suspected coronavirus carriers.
A range of mobile apps track our movements and warn citizens about their proximity to infected patients. In this way, citizens are totally under government surveillance.
Now you might think, what’s the big deal, even companies like Google or Facebook tracks us. Even they know where we are going? what we are buying?
What we are experiencing in many countries is not something very usual. The surveillance has gone one step ahead. What Prof. Harari mentioned as the transition from ‘over the skin‘ to ‘under the skin‘ surveillance.
Although we were under the surveillance before the pandemic by Google or Facebook, but they only knew our external reactions like what we buy more frequently, they didn’t know whether buying that makes us happy or sad.
They only knew where we are roaming but they didn’t know how that makes us feel. In short, their surveillance is ‘over the skin’.
But now with tracking of your body temperature to blood pressure, the government wants to go inside your body. Previously they were interested to know what kind of news you are reading more, and now when your finger touches your smartphone screen to press a link, government can track the temperature of your finger and blood pressure of your body when you press that link.
Imagine a day, when authorities/companies tracking every response of your body. They will exactly know what makes you sick or what makes you happy , sad, or angry. You don’t know what coming years might bring. In fact, they would know you better then you yourself.
Of course, at this crisis moment government is tracking people for our good, to identify infected people, prevent the pandemic, and it is for some time. But this may not be the case. Yuval Harari put forward some great insights on this. Read below his words-
‘You could, of course, make the case for biometric surveillance as a temporary measure taken during a state of emergency. It would go away once the emergency is over. But temporary measures have a nasty habit of outlasting emergencies, especially as there is always a new emergency lurking on the horizon.
Even when the infections from corona virus will be down to zero, some data hungry governments could argue they needed to keep the biometric surveillance systems in place because they fear a second wave of coronavirus, or there is a new Ebola strain evolving in central Africa, or because blah blah…, you get the idea. A big battle has been raging in recent years over our privacy (The data war). The coronavirus crisis could be the battle’s tipping point. For when people are given a choice between health and privacy, they will usually choose health.
Instead of building a surveillance regime, it is not too late to rebuild people’s trust in science, in public authorities, and in the media. We should definitely make use of new technologies too, but these technologies should empower citizens. I am all in favor of monitoring my body temperature and blood pressure, but that data should not be used to create an all powerful government. Instead, data should enable me to make more informed personal choices, and also to hold government accountable for its choices.’
Asking to choose between privacy and health is a trap. You might not realize now but privacy is equally important as health in today’s generation and you should enjoy both.
An alternative to this totalitarian surveillance Harari suggests is ‘Citizen empowerment’. If people know scientific reasons of why they should wash their hands or why social distancing is important, perhaps governments don’t need to surveill them 24/7.
Why is more important than what or how (of a fact) to empower citizens. For a person who knows how beneficial it is to just wash your hands with soap, washing hands becomes natural. But for an ignorant person have no clue why should he/she should wash hands.
A self-motivated population is way more powerful than an ignorant population who need to be surveilled 24/7. Countries like Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea have already shown this.
Somehow a lot of government authorities realizing now how crucial is people’s scientific temper.
2. Nationalist isolation Vs Global solidarity
A lot of people over the globe believe that globalization will take a halt after this pandemic. People will less prefer to travel to other countries and countries would separate themselves from other countries. Just the way a lot of nations are sealing their borders right now.
Think about the society where you are living. Imagine a gang of robbers entered your neighbor’s home, beat people there and loot everything. And then again the same thing happened in another home.
What should your society do under such circumstances?
Just seal all the houses, stop speaking with each other, and be in your home all the time or cooperate with each other, share the information of robbers with each other and make strategies to combat them.
You would always choose the 2nd option as It is more reliable and effective.
The same is true at this pandemic time. Countries which fought better with the virus such as Singapore, South Korea could share the information and strategies with other countries.
But the recent incidents have shown the lack of cooperation among countries. Even at this crisis time, many countries are busy in blaming each other and making conspiracy theories rather than thinking about the future of humanity.
The real character of a person revealed at the time of crisis. This is the time for all the world leaders as well as for us to show some character.
From the economic point of view also global cooperation is vital. A sharp decrease in the supply chain from one corner of the world will affect the other corner.
Therefore, thinking about nationalist isolation at this moment will result in a disaster. We must work together as a whole rather thank working as a chunk.
These are the decisions that are going to shape our future. This is the time to make choice between totalitarian surveillance vs citizen empowerment and nationalist isolation vs global solidarity.
Don’t feel like your own personal decisions have nothing to do with the world tomorrow. It’s the choices of every individual human which defines the world. The world is going to change for sure.
What kind of world we would like to see tomorrow is our collective choice. We can empower ourselves for a better future or we can remain ignorant and present our future generations a dystopian future.
Have a safe week. Until next time