The COVID-19 is a new name of the real, that which from the start does not have a whole sense, since we do not know exactly what it is and, although we try to compare it with previous things (other coronaviruses), there is always an unknown remainder left. This is what anguishes us and the spring of collective panic. For the moment, it is a single signifier – COVID 19 or Coronavirus – that is missing the second part: the full story that would explain it, locate it and thus put it “under control”. We are still constructing that story, not without difficulties, since in the midst of the crisis the narrative is full of fakes, partial data, sometimes accurate alerts, other times disproportionate ones. When the story progresses and we get to know who it really is, how it works and how we can prevent it, panic will fall… until the next unknown.
The consequences are, therefore, somewhat unpredictable, but some can be advanced: the world is increasingly quarantined; some are placed on it by medical prescription and others by prevention or panic, or even by modus vivendi. Some companies begin to notice it in the rise of their stocks: Zoom, Netflix, Facebook, Amazon or Slack. All of them allow teleworking or home entertainment. Those who depend on direct or on-site supplies or labor are falling. Capitalism, as always, finds a benefit out of any crisis.
For some time now we have all been a little quarantined, protected in the TV series and on social networks, removed from the contact with each other, the social phobia that Freud spoke of a century ago. Even a basic need such as eating does not require us to leave the home fort, for this we have the deliveries and their booming platforms.
A new digital gap seems to be drawn between those who can resist the virus, isolated in their homes, and those who have no choice but to face it hand-to-hand. The paradox is that many of those who can more easily protect themselves from the hostile enemy by subtracting the body, through their digital avatars, are those who later on (after the exception time) will be able to pay for face-to-face care (teachers who speak to them , doctors who explore them, people who take care of them). Others will be left only with virtual care (remote learning, telecare, digital diagnostics) which is cheaper and more universalizable.
Soon, body to body contact, face-to-face interaction in healthy conditions will be a luxury that many will not be able to access. COVID-19 (and as the viral joke says, number 20 and those that will come after it) has come to remind us of our fragility, now that we had begun to believe that we were absolute masters of our own destiny, believers in the limitless power of technology. The truth is that we still inhabit a body.
Published in La Vanguardia, on Friday 12th March 2020.