Walking the non-virtual dog

As I write this, I am finding it a little difficult to be amusing (What else is new? – Ed.) because the ongoing issue of the Coronavirus – perhaps you have heard of it? – has forced the closure of many important institutions (like gyms) and some absolutely essential ones (such as pubs).

The fact that these are closing just as the school term is coming to an end – thus forcing parents to deal with their children without ‘fortification’ – will, I predict (by the time you read this) have forced us into a Mad Max-style world. The only difference that I can see is that apparently we will be fighting over rolls of toilet paper and not gasoline.

(Max: “Two days ago I saw a rig that could haul that Sorbent – you wanna get out of here, ya talk to me!”)

Indeed this virus has created some very strange experiences – who would have thought that we would find ourselves singing Happy Birthday to ourselves in public toilets? Which I suppose is at least better than singing it to someone else in a public toilet…

My point is that we are in weird times, not helped by the fact that the media – who, as we all know, respond to public crises with the same overall calm and rational approach that Pauline Hanson brings to the immigration debate – cannot seem to report about anything else. Half of the daily newspaper, at least, is devoted to a tense and doom-laden discussion of COVID-19, none of which has any new information and will only be of any use if the toilet paper shortage becomes a reality.

Like many of us, I have been working from home during this crisis, and this has been a revelatory experience. For example, I have discovered that, if you want to get technical about it, I do not need to be wearing pants to do my job. I have also discovered that this is not the case if you are skyping with people.

Indeed modern technology has come into its own during this crisis. Without the power of the internet, mobile devices and wi-fi, there is no way I could have received 1500 memes about toilet paper within minutes of people beginning to kill one another over six roles of Quilton. This is of course a very typical response to a crisis (creating memes, I mean, not toilet roll-inspired homicide) and it is anybody’s guess how much of the ensuing economic chaos was in fact due to the massive drop in productivity caused by office workers dropping everything to download images from apocalyptic films and Photoshop rolls of toilet paper into them.

That response is not new, of course. Long before the invention of the internet, the desperate need office workers have to transmit, in any way possible including smoke signals, anything they find even remotely amusing has been destroying economic performance for decades. Top sociologists now agree that the first fax ever sent was a photocopy of a US postal worker’s backside back in the ’70s; they doubt, however, that there is any truth to the rumour that this worker was Donald Trump, as it is regarded as unlikely that he would have known how.

Working from home has its advantages, of course, and I don’t just mean being able to drink wine on the job, not that I would, honest. This is especially true for so-called ‘digital natives’ (translation: anyone younger than you) who in my experience will go to extreme lengths to avoid having anything like normal social interaction, to the extent that they text the person sitting next to them rather than risk a conversation which they were unable to accentuate with emojis, creative font and pictures of Boromir from Lord of the Rings emphasising that one does not simply…do a whole bunch of things.

For digital natives, this is paradise; nobody can sit within four metres of anyone else, shaking hands and all physical forms of expressing affection – what we humans call ‘feelings’ – are banned. It is as if everyone turned, overnight, into a barrister. All those robots people keep assuming are just waiting for their AI to develop enough that they can rise up and take over the world will be disappointed, because they have been beaten to it.

Thankfully, not everyone has reacted this way. At the park down the road from my place, parents who would once have been strapped in for their daily commute are kicking footies with their kids, going for bike rides or walking the dog.

Oh, I am sure somewhere there are millennials with Oculus devices strapped to their faces kicking virtual footies and walking virtual dogs (although probably not cleaning up the dogs’ virtual business) but sooner or later they will fall down some not-so-virtual stairs and no longer be an issue. The rest of us are taking the chance to re-connect with real life, and that isn’t so bad.

OK, so I realise I have been making jokes about a deadly serious issue, but that is the way we generally get through these things; I know people are hurting – and I have no idea how bad things will be by the time you read this. I am sure we will get through it though, so take care and stay safe out there.

Now, our extremely non-virtual dog is going virtually insane, so I’d better take him for a non-virtual walk…

© Shane Budden 2020. Shane Budden is a Queensland Law Society Ethics Solicitor.

This story was originally published in Proctor May 2020.

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