By Katrina Roen, Erik Carlquist, & Lin Prøitz; December 2020
For decades, researchers have debated the pros and cons of digital technology: does it help us live better lives, or does it make that harder? Now, in an era of pandemic and lockdown, our day-to-day experience of digital media has been brought even more clearly into focus. Our research examines the emotional aspects of this experience, asking: how are digital media woven through our lives on an emotional level?
The global health emergency caused by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, known colloquially as COVID19, since late 2019 has resulted in calls for COVID19-related topics to be prioritised in research to inform the public health response to the pandemic. Acting on the urgent need for research (and to some extent, social responsibility), many leading cross-disciplinary journals have offered publication fee waivers for research papers covering a COVID19-related topic in any field, including but not limited to chemistry, biology, medicine, economics, and psychology. Further, in many (if not all) of these cases, the open-access fee additional to the cost of publication is also relinquished.
Last month I found myself in a weird situation. It had taken me some time to make the final corrections to a paper I had had accepted (by Feminism & Psychology). I had written it under what we now call ‘normal’ conditions, and here I was, ‘shielding’ myself while working within the Covid 19 + #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) situation. The world had changed profoundly, and I realised the paper needed to change too.
I was somewhat alarmed to find myself, as a 70-year-old, suddenly categorised as a member of a particularly vulnerable group. This is a group of people based only on the number of years that they have lived who have been singled out as needing to be extra careful and isolated earlier than others during the Covid-19 pandemic. Of course, this is for the protection of our health and signals society’s concern and protection of members of the population who are clearly more at risk.
As we age, we are more likely to suffer the underlying health issues which also make people more vulnerable to this virus. Unfortunately, using such a crude indicator of vulnerability as age alone has its downside. Categorising people in this way feeds into prejudice against older people and a deficit view of ageing that is already circulating in our society. Such ageist attitudes depict people in terms of their age alone and obscure the huge diversity that actually exists among older people.
African countries’ responses to the COVID19 pandemic are complicated by an array of economic and health challenges, introduced and entrenched by neo/colonialism and neoliberal economics. Yet, at the same time, the histories and present realities of these settings mean that African scholars have a different perspective on how to respond to the pandemic than those in more privileged settings. In this piece, I reflect on two important lessons that can be learned from African responses.
The COVID-19 pandemic was announced on 11 March 2020 by the World Health Organization, marking a turning point for the public health systems serving the health of constituent populations across the globe. This declaration moment is important for narrative on COVID-19 because it is the point at which it is accepted that the virus is not only travelling to different countries, but is now circulating in those countries. Governments are now required to take action to moderate the impact of the infection, reducing harm for the polity until the virus – through the mutation of its biological properties, human immunity, vaccines or some combination of these – takes its place, we hope, among the many other microbes with which human life has found co-existence.
The WHO declaration is also an important moment for the COVID-19 story because it reveals how data about notifications of diagnosed infection and deaths are used to make decisions and therefore reveals how, in the circumstances of a pandemic, it is keenly apparent that numerical and narrative futures constitute each other.
Over the last few weeks I have been caught, suspended, and at times paralysed, between the two stark realisations that: I am incredibly privileged to be able to continue the work of teaching and research online as we go into full lock down. After all, I will be paid my full salary, I have the right technological set-up at home and I can continue to undertake meaningful work that I am passionate about.
But that also: I am absolutely struggling to continue the work of teaching and research online. My already full pre-lockdown workload has not diminished. Indeed it has increased through ever-changing institutional mandates, crisis response meetings, learning of new digital tools and increasing my support for struggling students and colleagues.