I happen to personally know several people who have been affected by coronavirus. To be more precise, they have felt the impact of the panic about the disease. (No names, but you know who you are!). One couple just arrived from a trip to China, and they have been forced to stay in a hotel for two weeks (hello Netflix). Another couple arrived from Hong Kong more than a week ago, and they decided to self-quarantine themselves on a road trip (that they were planning to do anyway). This Monday, my mom went to Italy (an adventure she had planned a while back) to find out that their famous opera house is closed and tourists cannot visit museums. Sad face.
Of course, coronavirus is real and some people did die. But the panic about it seems to be artificial. Reasonable precautions have given way to a shitstorm of fear and loathing.
By fear I mean the claims that the new pandemic is upon us. Some digging through online resources shows that coronavirus (in terms of people who got sick and those who actually died) is far from the proper pandemic scale. This fear does not seem warranted. But the current alternative is not necessarily better. Those who are not afraid too often turn to loathing - blaming and even hating those who say that coronavirus is a problem.
Let us step back and see what is going on here. People are biased (hey, we all are). People have a biological need to communicate with each other, which includes looking for information and sharing it (without necessarily checking one's biases in the process). People's relationships are characterized by the constant struggle for power. Looking for ways to make profit is a big part of this struggle. In the modern world, one can make profit by sharing information in certain ways (e.g., creating clickbait stories). On top of that, we are often unaware of some or all aspects of this dynamics.
1) Some people think that it's fine or necessary to spread stories that end up feeding into the panic.
2) Other people react to these stories and share them further.
3) This confirms the assumptions of (a) people who are afraid and (b) people for whom creating/spreading stories is a business.
And the vicious cycle continues, slowly taking on tornado proportions.
My two cents:
1) Let's be aware of how our biases work. Confirmation bias is a big one, of course.
2) Let's be aware of how online social networks work. For example, it is useful to remember that we create and thrive in our filter bubbles where biases reign supreme.
3) Let's be aware of how business models of mediated communication work. More fear and talks about an issue lead to more news stories from serious media outlets, and more clickbait stories from less reliable media outlets. So seeing more stories does not mean being in bigger danger of contracting a disease. It just means that the topic is a hot one right now.
4) This is an important one. Let's not be mad at each other for being afraid, being biased or doing what our business models dictate. All these things are very understandable.
5) At the same time, let's be responsible and remember that when people communicate, they influence each other. When WE communicate, we influence each other. You are I. All of us. That's true whether you are a journalist, a professional blogger, an internet junkie, or an occasional social media user.
6) Let's breathe in, breath out, and calm down. Peace.
I have an irrational fear or cars. It's not a phobia (I guess...), although sometimes it almost seems to be.
Example 1: I only feel comfortable crossing the street either if it's green (well, white in the US) for me or when cars are far far FAR away.
Example 2: I sometimes feel uncomfortable on the sidewalk of a busy road with cars buzzing by so close to me.
Example 3: Driving makes me very anxious.
Example 4: I don't like being a passenger in a car that goes very fast on the highway.
Ok, it is probably a phobia after all.
I have searched my soul and memory trying to explain to myself (or incredulous others) why I feel this way. When I was a teenager, I once crossed a street just a few seconds before somebody walking behind me was hit by a fast-driving car. I remember turning around to see what happened. All cars stopped. A body was lying on the road (I don't remember any gory details). The driver who had just hit the person ran out of her car and was kneeling next to the body. I don't remember much beyond that, I guess I continued walking. I was wearing blue wide-leg jeans and a pink sweater. It was a warm sunny day.
Rationally, this explanation seems plausible after all. But when I tell the story, I feel nothing. In fact, it took me a while to make the connection between this experience and my fear of cars.
Another possible explanation comes from my observations of car-driving people from a position of a pedestrian, a passenger, or a car owner and user. What I keep noticing is that car-drivers are often not very nice to fellow human beings. Apparently, cultural differences exist, with some places being rougher than others. Yet overall, once an otherwise decent person gets into her or his metal beast and presses gas, they somehow change. And this scares me a lot.
It almost seems like when people turn into drivers, something happens to their empathy. They don't know how (or don't want) to see those they share the road with as humans worthy of respect.
Anonymity is probably a factor. Yes, all cars have identifying numbers, and you can technically see other drivers' faces through the windshield. Still, the metal mass stands in the way of the real human contact. We cannot really read each other's body language, and voices are substituted by honking, which is basically a sound of anger (although it is meant to be a warning). What kind of conversation can we have if the only thing we can do is scream without words?
We lack empathy when we struggle to see each other as humans with similar goals, hopes, and concerns. The perceived anonymity does not help. We are busy honking or cutting off other motorists, thinking that nobody will have time to write down our number or to see our face. In the process, each person's conviction that other drivers are just mean, crazy, or stupid is further reinforced.
I secretly hope that self-driving cars will solve all the problems. However, it is unlikely to be so. I don't believe in evil technology, but I do think that technology feeds into our biases and amplifies blind spots. No innovation can substitute healthy self-awareness and real human connection. Drive safe! Be kind to each other.