Social distance … what’s worth …?

Created 5/5/20

I seem to be a bit differently blocked about posting things lately. Some of that is just that I seem to have been working rather harder/longer than usual and some of that increase in work came from the cv-19 pandemic and a wish to be doing something useful in the face of such horror and sadness. But another element has been trying to understand a bit more about this “isolation/social distance” issue. Suddenly much of the world has been forced, more or less reluctantly, into degrees of social distance that aren’t normal for them. With discussion with my family, but pretty actively opted for myself, I’ve chosen to react by just starting living up here about two months earlier than planned and I only leg it to the shop once a week. That’s not a huge change from how I’ve lived about half the year for the last two years. So I’m in a social distanced place that I’ve actively sought out for myself for a while but I’m now socially distanced from, isolated from, most of the world who are suddenly also much more socially distanced than is their norm.

I’m sure that the social distancing edicts in most countries have been wise. A sad bit of that is that we can’t trust a huge proportion of the population to do sensible things if those sensible things go against their habits or wishes. I’m sure they will have been “worth it” in deferred deaths and some mitigation of terrible pressures on health services and perhaps social care services. It seems wonderfully clear that they have brought out so much that is good in many people. They also seem to me to have revealed some of the very worst of the people in power in many countries and the speculations about whether not cv-19 is an escaped bioweapon remind us that most of the world is either at war or poised to fight. In the early months of this there was a phase when I dived back into my early career “community medicine” (now “public health”) time (mostly 1983-84 if anyone wants that time perspective on this solipsistic stuff) and I spent hours every day trying to digest the emerging numbers and modelling. I stopped that a month or so ago partly because I had taken up trying to do things that might be useful to therapists having to work online but I know that part of that shift was away from the raw numbers and all the individual and familial, collective, social horror they index. It wasn’t just that the overwhelming majority of this is impinging on people I don’t know, I was concerned about the impact on family, particularly parents who I’m very lucky to still have alive either side of 90 years old and I was starting to learn of friends of friends, friends and relatives of colleagues and then colleagues and family members themselves having had the virus. (So far, no deaths even at those removes in the people I know.) There was something indecent about thinking of human horror in numbers but there always is, take cv-19 away and it’s often more the deaths and maiming we humans do to each other that I try to process in numbers from the latest news. Cv-19 wipes most of that out of the news but there’s always “social distancing” of a psychological kind rather than a physical kind in these numberings.

OK, Chris, follow that thread for a moment, maybe it matters. Well, my Email contacts collection has 5,146 people in it. Let’s say I sort of “know” or “have interacted with to a point that I can probably remember something of” say 5,500 people and if there are 7.8 billion people in the world ( then I have some personal capacity to think of 7.05*10-7, i.e. about 0.00007% of the world’s population. OK, is that a distancing that we all share (I don’t count having 3 million twitter or other “follower” as knowing them). I guess since the 16th Century at the latest (perhaps earlier for the Chinese?) we have been faced with both that our world is huge compared to what we know of it, and that it’s a finite sphere (oblate spheroid!) The physical area we can “know” and the proportion of living humanity we can “know” are both tiny compared to the area and numbers out there. I guess I that sociologically, psychologically, we’re making slow progress (if any) in processing this constructively and tend to collapse into “localisms” and too often into fighting to deaths over these localisms.

A true pandemic, something completely non-human it itself: a tiny accretion of genetic material and protein that only reproduces in and through “higher”, much more complex, lifeforms has suddenly challenged our other great defence against our diminutive and distanced/scattered states: hugely inflated ideas of our omniscience and omnipotence. We have the nuclear weapons to render our planet uninhabitable (certainly to our “higher” lifeforms, we have remarkable abilities to intervene in many illnesses and traumata and we can measure gravity waves and date the big bang but we’re watching this cv-19 thing kill and all we can do for now is retreat into social distancing and do what we can to adjust and cope.

I’m clear that saying that I have some personal connectedness with say 0.00007% of the world’s population, perhaps indirect connectedness with 0.0007% if I allow that each person I “know” might tell me about up to ten other people that I’m not setting a value on that. I think you could “know” a far higher proportion or perhaps just get through your life only relating to a tiny handful of people but if you relate to them well and don’t create a dangerous “us and them” around your niche then you have lived a life as worth living as anyone who can say they related well and didn’t hurt others with “us and them”. (I’m a bit sceptical about true hermits and anchorites but I guess the ones we know of have impacted on many.)

So I started this about “… what’s worth …?” and I meant to take that to “What’s worth doing?” and “What’s worth saying?”. I know that something that has been stopping me blogging much has been a rather despairing question “What’s worth saying?” (and a feeling that I was better with my current “doing”). This blog, as opposed to my equally stuck work blogs, is about trying to stay in touch with people who matter to me when I can’t Email them individually (without stopping my “doing”!) I guess it’s worth saying/writing.

I’ll stop with two experiments in timelapse other than my regular “all daylight hours” ones (timelapse-videos). These are using my camera instead of an old ‘phone, and choosing just one view to follow for a time. They were both six second intervals and they’re 25fps video so speeded up 150x I suppose. I’ve got a very interesting social distance I guess.

3/5/20 16:35 across the valley

I love that soft but scarred bluff which I imagine was a lava flow long ago and I like they way the clouds scud over it and throw everything into alternating light and dark. And here’s my noble neighbour (to the right of the view!)

3/5/20 18:57 Rognais to Mont Blanc

I’ve not got on top of all the challenges of using yet another amazing open source tool, ffmpeg in this case, to convert many separate images to video yet but I’ll chew away at this!

Share this:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *