It feels like we’ve been training for prolonged periods of social distancing for years: Staring deep into our phones, driving-thru our errands and meals, hoarding online friendships while disposing of our flesh-and-bone ones, morphing into avatars who only exist online. Even phone calls became too intrusive, and we all learned to "ghost."
We humble-bragged about how people-averse we were, binged on TV shows and explored miles of virtual realities while staying put in real life.
Yet, now that our anti-social instincts could become our saving grace, we’re suddenly restless, claustrophobic and in desperate need of live, human connection. This is not the time to restock our bankrupt social wellness with face-to-face heart-to-hearts.
Think of the slow and simple character Lennie from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, who accidentally killed a woman because he couldn’t stop petting her hair. The urge to pet the hair of others — or less figuratively, drink, hang out and dance with them — will kill women, men and possibly even some kids. There will be more social gatherings to come, in the form of funerals.
Naturally, in scary times we crave a hug or a guy to flirt with at the bar. This is a great chance to bring back the art of the long, twirling-the-cable, 1980s teen girl marathon phone call. Set up video chats with your friends, meet at an empty park and speak loudly at each other from separate benches. Just keep a wide distance, and don't touch the bench.
Many jokes are floating around our new home planet, the internet, about reality resembling an elaborate Black Mirror episode. The outbreak evokes the series' dystopian science fiction plots involving digital consciousness and, like the show, holds up a mirror reflecting our flaws. Tops on that list, other than the fact that America is a $30k millionaire that can’t support a crisis, is that we're a nation that treats its elderly worse than its dogs.
Suddenly our eyes are blinded by the bright, true colors of those around us: Students drinking at bars on spring break, families huddled together at beaches, your uncle sharing medical advice from an inaccurate meme. Refusing to stay put while bragging that you’re unafraid is not heroic. It's villainous. You’re volunteering to host a deadly virus that might kill someone else. That's like offering Ted Bundy shelter for the night because you don’t fit his victim profile, when you have a house full of sorority girls.
The binary American model of divisiveness has cracked into two schools of thoughtlessness: The overbuying, fake news-pushing carriers of corona hysteria and the hard-skulled corona deniers. As experts told us — yelled at us — that it’s better to overreact than underreact, a cautious middle quietly self-quarantined.
But one sector stooped below being indifferent about propagating COVID-19 or hoarding essential products: the people reveling in the painful death of senior citizens by hailing the coronavirus as a “boomer remover.”
Some 70,000 tweets have used the hashtag #boomerremover (though some mean to denounce its use) alone, not to mention its other variants, including “boomer doomer.” But we didn’t need to announce our blatant ageism via Twitter. It shows when we blindly refuse to listen to data that contradict all the fun plans we had for vacation, when we regurgitate the myth that only a handful of old people will die, as if that makes our recklessness better. It shows when we jump to buy cheaper airline tickets for nonessential travel and crowd airports and breathe all over each other in lines, and continue to go to events because we don’t fear for our personal health.
Not everyone is as overt in their callousness. For some it’s a more diplomatic “Let the virus take its course” approach, which roughly translates to, “Fuck the old and sick people.”
Others consider the virus a chance at a revolution, to rid ourselves of a group embarrassing us on social media, slowing down traffic and political change.
The prevalent argument against social distancing is that coronavirus affects only the old, who are already marked for death by the common flu. This, too, is false. Forty percent of those hospitalized are younger than 54. When we overwhelm resources, those people might die, too.
Regardless, we had to wait for government to order us into isolation when we had ample information about the need to "flatten the curve" and slow the exponential growth in the spread of the novel coronavirus. That shows how little regard we hold for those most at risk.
Let us momentarily forget scientific data and the national state of emergency, even the disconcerting chance the virus might have long-lasting health effects on those it infects but doesn't kill. What we do know is that it’s killing our elderly and people with cancer and respiratory diseases. Does the life of a child with asthma hold less value? What about the young, healthy child who needs intensive care following an accident but finds hospitals are filled with COVID-19 patients?
Would we be acting any differently if this virus killed our children? What about our pets?
“Let the virus take its course” is a call to sacrifice the old for the good of a glorified youth, to let the chosen ones prosper as we carry through an experiment in eugenics.
In Italy, hospitals are turning away patients more than 80 years old, having to decide whose lives are worth saving. Why would anyone be complicit in creating a similar situation in our own country, let alone celebrate it?
It’s not just Gen Z and millennial trolls and their #boomerremover cold blood. There’s an assorted-age pandemic of macho denial among those who boast of invincible spirits and Keith Richards-like indestructible health. They refuse to buy into our collective fear. Instead, they choose collective callousness.
Whatever the reason — an overwhelming need for companionship, a nihilistic view that we’re all doomed to die anyway or open disdain for the elderly — think of the kids and the dogs or the cats if that’s your poison; how many kids are going to lose grandparents, how many pets their owners?
Imagine putting in years of work in a frequently hostile economy. Then, just as you finally hit the retirement finish line, you die of an avoidable virus because Kyle had to party on St. Patrick’s Day.
Yes, serious thinkers are raising questions about whether a general lockdown for everyone, along with the economic damage that brings, is the right course. Maybe isolating those most vulnerable to the virus while allowing the rest to face the risk of exposure and build up society's herd immunity is a better path, they say. But that's a question of policy and strategy, about weighing the cost versus benefits of one approach over another. It's not an excuse for a free-for-all, and the doctors and government leaders raising questions about whether the world is overreacting or making the wrong choices aren't denying the crisis exists.
For that, we have unserious non-thinkers, and they have social media.
Actress Vanessa Hudgens became the face of corona denial recently when she posted an Instagram story expressing her disappointment at the cancellation of the Coachella music festival.
“It’s a virus, I get it. I respect it,” Hudgens told her followers. “But at the same time, like, even if everybody gets it — like, yeah, people are gonna die. Which is terrible. But, like, inevitable? I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t be doing this right now,” she said with a laugh.
The actress received aggressive backlash, with followers condemning her message as “insensitive” and “heartless.”
Hudgens isn’t alone. Never deterred by any sense of gravity, aspiring social-media influencers, famished for attention, found a way to display stupidity in a manner so novel that it made headlines. The “corona virus challenge” shows teens licking public toilets and pulling similar stunts, essentially playing an embarrassingly dumb game of Russian roulette with unsanitary weapons. Except, turning yourself into a potential COVID-19 carrier for online "likes" is playing Russian roulette with someone else’s head.
So, then, are only boomers holding back social progress? Apparently not. Does no one know any old hippies anymore? Not every boomer is a Trump apologist. Nearly half of them voted against him in the last election.
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Yes, they can’t work a phone for shit (my mom takes a picture of her phone with her husband’s phone when she wants to take a screenshot, and when you send her a meme you have to accept there will be follow-up questions like, “I don’t get it, who said this?”), but they're not posting callous, idiotic videos for their future employers and children.
Meanwhile, the reasonable middle makes polite pleas on social media. After all, we don’t want to shame people for the ways they’re coping with a global crisis and their failure to grasp the severity of this catastrophe.
We argue with flat-earthers and anti-vaxxers and people who eat meat or don’t, we challenge those who see a dress as blue instead of gold or hear the name Yanny or Laurel (ah, simpler times), but don’t confront those who are going out unnecessarily and frivolously.
It’s not just influencers and actresses and spring breakers and families in Florida. It’s your aunt who spreads actual fake news, too. It’s your hipster friends still going out, believing that they’re helping. If you want to support businesses, and the business of humanity, stay the hell at home and save lives. Make that the stupid coronavirus challenge.