Mark Goldberg

Brave new world

Although it has been percolating for a few months already, the past week or so has seen dramatic changes in our lifestyles due to the impact of the COVID-19 virus.

Many of us are now working from home, practicing ‘social distancing’ with the hope that we can slow the spread of the disease, smoothing the curve to try to avoid overwhelming our healthcare systems. Schools are closed; businesses have asked employees to work from home where possible; entertainment venues have suspended operations; where bars and restaurants are still operating, medical officers of health are asking people to choose take-out.

Canadian telecom service providers have responded, removing data overage charges from residential internet service plans, and in many cases waiving mobile roaming fees for people caught in global hot spots. Some TV providers have opened up free access to additional channels to help keep kids entertained, or providing access to subscription news channels. Most have also promised flexible payment options, recognizing the financial difficulties that may arise as a result of job interruptions.

A number of years ago, I wrote “4 degrees of impersonal communications”, describing a paradox in that “we seem to take more care in communications when the conversation can most easily be private and candid. Conversely, we pay less attention to etiquette and courtesy when the audience is global and of diuturnal impact.”

Face-to-face communications (a first degree interaction) has no record, no evidence beyond the memory of the participants. Telephony (second degree) may have a record, such as an audio voice message. Email (3rd degree) gets circulated, over and over. Thanks to search engines and web-archiving tools, the web (4th degree) offers a permanent record.

For the next little while, our ‘first-degree’ interactions will be limited. As we use other forms of communications, let’s hope we can try to emulate more of the courtesy that comes to us more naturally when speaking face-to-face.

Please make a point of contacting people who may be isolated at home; you never know how important it can be to provide a virtual embrace for people facing a changing future.

And when you venture out to the store, or interact with someone who has a job that keeps them working on the front lines (including first responders, check-out clerks, pharmacy workers and the folks maintaining our communications systems), be sure to offer a genuine smile and ‘thank-you’.

Those little acts of courtesy, of humanity, can go a long way.

Stay safe. Stay healthy.

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