The Social Media Echo Chamber

I honestly think we may be living through the weirdest period I’ve experienced in my lifetime.  I think the jumpy, panicky reaction many people seem to be having to the coronavirus — a jumpy, panicky reaction that has now extended for multiple days — is pretty much unprecedented.

We’re in a curious, alternative universe-type world where people react to news about a virus by going out and binge-buying toilet paper and multiple other items that have nothing to do with the medical condition at issue.  Even in a city like Columbus, where there have been no reported, confirmed cases of COVID-19, people have overreacted in ways that just aren’t rational.  Why is this so?  In the past we’ve live through medical scares, stock market plummets, and even terrorist attacks where people behaved more responsibly.  Why is the Great Coronavirus Crisis of 2020 so different?

I find myself wondering if social media plays a role.  Could social media be acting like a colossal echo chamber, taking individual concerns and amplifying them in ways that have contributed to the panicky reactions?  If people see posts from their friends on things like empty grocery store shelves in the toilet paper aisle, does that cause them to think that maybe they need to go out in a fruitless search for toilet paper, working themselves into a kind of frenzy even though they’ve got an ample supply on hand for the foreseeable future?  Are the standard bits of misinformation that frequently finds their way onto social media sites, where they are passed off as relevant, contributing to the jittery atmosphere?

It’s all very weird, and makes me wonder how people would respond to more significant issues.  We’re still figuring out coronavirus, to be sure, but if you go outside you will see people driving their cars, sweeping their sidewalks, doing their jobs, and going to restaurants and bars.  The NCAA Tournament and the Masters may have been cancelled, but for the vast majority of us life goes on — if we’d just peek out of the foxhole and recognize that.

I’m hoping that, over the weekend, people take a deep breath.

Handwashing 101

This week small posters providing CDC guidance on techniques to combat the spread of the coronavirus have been popping up everywhere, including on the door to the men’s bathroom on my floor at the firm.  One of the topics addressed by the poster is the need to wash your hands for 20 seconds.  Looking at it moved me to compose some bad verse:

Handwashing 101

I learned it as a tiny tot, and it was kind of fun

But this week I’ve been enrolled in Handwashing 101.

I always wash up, for sure, but now from what I gather

The CDC says it’s quite key to work up a good lather.

Twenty seconds sure is long, much longer than my plans,

It’s tough indeed for those of us with short attention spans.

I rub away, in water warm, and feel my mind wander

“Is this how Pontius Pilate felt?” is one thing that I ponder.

The water’s getting hotter still, like flames from a lit torch

But if it helps to stop the spread, my fingers I will scorch.

At the end of my countdown, with digits squeaky clean

I feel that I have done my part to stop COVID-19.

My hands have been boiled red, redder than the setting sun

It’s how you get a passing grade in Handwashing 101.