The COVID-19 Arrow: Striking at the Heart of American Life and Culture
As we are discovering in our human-embedded technologies project, the new technologies are not just providing us with advanced modes of communication, they are also influencing the very way in which we process the information we receive (Bustamante, 2021) and the brain-related functions we are deploying (Bergquist, 2021b). In an individualistic society such as we find in the United States, the influence of technologies can be particularly pronounced—because we don’t have much of a public forum in which to test out the information being received, screened and interpreted by the technologies we are using. The Internet becomes our new public forum—however it is providing a forum that is tailor-made to our own biases and our own perspectives regarding all public matters—including COVID-19 policies.
The virus is pulling us away from other people and we are allowing (even encouraging) the new technologies to help us with this sociofugual process. We might be gathering with some other people on social media and Zoom; however, this group is actually quite small and homogenous in beliefs and values. We are alone in a world packed with human beings. We are shielded from multiple perspectives in a world filled with diversity (Bergquist,2021a). We live in an echo chamber that is bouncing back our own assumptions—suggesting that these assumptions have been confirmed. Self-reinforcing feedback loops prevail in our own conceptual world. There are no negative (breaking) sources of challenge and disconfirmation to correct this close loop. A power law of exponential self-confirmation matches the infectious power law of COBID-19. These two modes of exponential growth might be related . . .
Varda Silberberg (2020, p. 12) proposed that virus-related social distancing has “created an enormous need for intimacy in general, and emotional intimacy in particular.” This same need might have been elicited in the United States during the COVID era. Midst the polarizing and potentially destructive world of high tech in America, we also find high touch. Christakis writes about the important role played by high touch—a role that is particularly important in an individualistic society that is littered with sociofugal settings which keep people apart from one another. Christakis (2020, p. 211) offers a particularly poignant observation about the important of relationships in the healing process required of those infected with COVID-19. He backs up his claim with some research:
Love and connection can make suffering more bearable. Experiments show that if a person is obliged to undergo something painful (like having pressure applied to an index finger) or stressful (like immersing a foot in three inches of cold water), the pain is tolerated better when his or her spouse is present.
Christakis (2020, p. 216) moves even further by noting that the very act of being thoughtful about engaging NPI (such as mask wearing) is nurturing for all involved: “A key point about physical distancing and staying.at home is that people are not doing these things primarily to help themselves but rather to help one another. That took a while to sink in.” While mask wearing and other NPIs were originally assumed to be motivated by a desire to appear brave and responsible (a self-oriented motivation), it was later discovered that something like “altruism” was responsible. Apparently, even in the Unites States, we find that being collectively responsible is a rewarding experience. And, as Christakis suggests, this took quite a while to sink in—given the highly individualistic society of the United States. High tech has found a worthy opponent (or perhaps a needed companion) in high touch when facing the challenges of COVID-19.
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