Protest in the Pandemic 3

In such a connected world, it can be challenging to filter through so much conflicting information. How do we know what to believe? This session took a closer look at conspiracy theories and tried to understand what they have in common.

3 الاحتجاج في الجائحة

Too Much Information?

Leading from last week’s conversation about narratives, we began this session by reflecting on what we thought was missing from the dominant narratives of the pandemic.  One of the missing elements we discussed was the idea of living with the virus. Although today there are many countries that have already begun to ease restrictions and attempt to return to business, there are continuous warnings about a second wave and curing or vaccinations paradigms continue to dominate. We are missing information about how to cope; how to live with the virus.

Complexity is another missing element; there is a lot of focus on responses to the pandemic, protocols and new regulations but no one reliable approach to navigating the abundance of information we are exposed to on a daily basis. We found this to be an interesting paradox where on the one hand, many parts of reality are not reflected in the way we talk about the pandemic but on the other hand there is so much information yet to be evaluated and considered. What we find challenging about having oceans of information is that there are always conflicting messages. If you try to think of any fact or idea that you believe to be universal you can almost be certain that there will be a person or entire community that oppose or even deny it.

We reflected on the impact that travel has on the information we acquire, how it is to be a traveller of the physical world, learning and forming opinions based on things we have seen and interactions with others compared to our search for information online. The algorithms of search engines and social media place us in a bubble where our cookies and search history often determine the kind of information we “find”. Not to mention all the information and unfolding events that are yet to be publicized or have been overshadowed by mainstream media coverage. To a large extent, negative news sells better and while we can find information about prevention and examples of solutions from around the world, they are rarely at the forefront. We wonder what it would be like if constructive information became a global priority.

It is understandable then that many get overwhelmed with all this information and frustrated to find that they cannot identify the root cause of any one issue. Lack of transparency by governments and organizations often leads some people to fill in the gaps themselves; one of the reasons why conspiracies gain popularity. But as Rhyd Wildermuth explains in The Occulted Meaning of Covid-19, there is no one culprit. Reflecting on his idea that politics and concentrations of power are the conspiracies, we thought about the predictability that underlies opportunism. The pattern is quite simple: an event occurs and there are winners and losers; the winners being those who understand how the “game” works and have the resources to broker contracts for their own gain. The conspiracy we can bet on then is the repetition of these patterns until we have real institutional changes that prioritize citizen’s voices.

Pushing for institutional change requires a certain level of awareness which brought back the discussion to information once again. The way we navigate such quantities of information becomes especially important during a crisis as what we know informs our behaviours and our reality. More importantly, the knowledge we accumulate now will impact our future decision making whether it is on a personal level or on a larger scale where voting is involved for example. But this is not an easy task! We considered how being in a state of hypervigilance is not good for mental health which is yet another thing to be mindful of; maintaining critical awareness while protecting ourselves from panic and anxiety.

Whether the present moment truly is a turning point and an opportunity is still up for debate. What we can say is that it is indeed a shock. If we listen to Naomi Klein, now would be the time to build little armours of information to protect ourselves from the impact of this shock; the impact that she argues could make us more vulnerable or passive towards radical changes to the way we live. Now may also be the time to consider that opportunists are not necessarily as organized or unified as conspiracies tend to paint them. We may even have our own window of opportunity to conspire if we look close enough.