Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2020/ Slow Pandemic

Slow Pandemic

We have gotten used to things happening fast. Moore's law means computers are getting faster and faster. We have videophones now, and brain interfaces, and telescreens that monitor our loyalty to Big Brother. Our startup culture obsesses over growth and scaling. The costs for solar panels and wind power have dropped dramatically.

This pandemic came on fast. In February I was scoffing at it and comparing it to the flu; in March I was terrified. Now it seems as if we have gotten past the exponential curve, and the growth and decline of the pandemic seems more linear (at least in Canada).

Now we are in a weird mix of adjusting to the new reality and trying to get our routines back together. Those of us still taking the pandemic seriously are socially/physically distancing, wearing masks in public like risible freaks, and biding our time. What are we waiting for? The vaccine, of course. The vaccine will make this all go away so that we can take off our masks and slobber on each other again.

How long will we wait? 15 more months? 18? Two years? Two years seems like an infinity of time away, but (if I remember correctly) nobody has developed a vaccine faster than four years. We might get lucky (there is a lot of human ingenuity going into this problem) but we might not.

Let's think back to World War II. Even a historical ignoramus like me knows that it started in 1938 and ended in 1945. That was well before I was born, so as far as I am concerned that was a mere blip of history. But it was seven years. The Great Depression started in 1929 and lasted until WWII, which was nine years. That is a long, long time to deal with greater suffering than we face in this pandemic today. Can you imagine living in semi-lockdown for seven years?

We might get lucky in other ways. Maybe we will find treatments for COVID19 that will reduce its severity so that it is not much worse than the aforementioned flu. Maybe we will complete the panopticon and nobody will get sick because our every interaction will be tracked by altruistic contact-tracers (and never ever by the police or government officials looking to quash dissenters). Maybe there will be some other miracle. But what if there isn't?

Our culture seems to have taken accelerating change for granted. I think many of us assume this will be over in 18 months, because how could it not be? But maybe it won't. Then what? Maybe we accept that lots of people will get this disease and be permanently disabled, and decide to let COVID19 runs its course. Maybe we get desperate and start waging war. Maybe we find some uneasy compromise with the virus. Maybe the next pandemic comes along to wreak havoc before this one has burned itself out. There are lots of possibilities, but I am not sure we are prepared to deal with any of them.