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.