PC: Benson Ibeabuchi in Lagos, Nigeria
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the proliferation of advisory articles written by professionals and non-professionals alike has been almost as infectious as the virus itself. The only thing that both these genuine medical insights and pithy palliative placebos have in common is that they both focus on short-term outcomes. However, the Coronavirus pandemic has not only provided us with (yet another) tangible reminder of our own fragile humanity. Wide-scale quarantines and social distancing tactics have also created an urgent demand for digital infrastructure that has never before existed. Will the technological solutions created to alleviate this crisis fundamentally change the way societies interact in future seasons beyond this Coronavirus winter?
Our human susceptibility to viral infection is paralleled by a lesser-discussed symptom of this crisis: the vulnerability not simply of life, but of our way of life. Because no cure currently exists for Coronavirus, the consequences of notquarantining (whether self-imposed or enforced via curfews) poses as an extreme public health risk from a number of different angles. While effective in curbing spread, Quarantine is an option of last resort for a reason. The negative implications for GDP are so extreme that only something such as a public health crisis would be serious enough to willfully self-isolate on this scale.
These critically important quarantines implicitly impose physical introversion (isolation) that can only be matched by digital extroversion. People, by nature, are social creatures. That need will not cease to exist. The paradox of the pandemic it that, in many particularly densely populated areas, has actually inverted the needs of society at a critical moment in history where the acceleration of technological development puts those new needs within reach. The bell curve of Coronavirus may take months to peak and pass, but it has already become the catalyst for largescale infrastructural changes. At this precise point in human history the concept of ‘way of life’ has never been more malleable.
Pandemics painfully remind us of how truly globalized we are as a world society, even when political public sentiments decry that our world system is an inter-national one, not a global one after all. The distinction between these two words has been so mis-used, blurred, and abstracted that the significance between them is often under-credited. The former (globalized) implies that as nations, societies, and individuals, an exponentially increasing interconnectedness has grown so deep that this system is so inescapably linked, even tangled, that on the most inclusive of scales we are one ‘globe.’ The latter implies that nations are distinct, and, thereby when they collaborate, it is according to sovereign calculations, based on rationality and autonomous will. Here, the concept of Us and Other upholds, possibly even intensifies within this arena. Although the pendulum of public and political sentiments swings between these two tendencies, by all other measures (technology, communication, economics, etc.) this system is one characterized by complex interdependence.
Nevertheless, the sharp nose-dive over the last five years into identity politics, protection policies, and populist movements has cast a shadow of the unquestioned euphoria that once surrounded the concept of globalization during the first two decades of the 21st century. In spite of the fact that more nations seem to be tucking back into their tortoise shells, the rate of digital transformation and development tech surges. Likewise, if necessity is the mother of all invention, then Coronavirus has created an extreme level of need that is in desperate want of innovation. How are these two distinct dimensions of globalization (the spread of Coronavirus and the pace technological advancement) symbiotic?