Transforming the way we live for the better?Thursday, March 26, 2020
Many lives across the world are being transformed by the advent of COVID-19. These are swift transformations as governments, public and private sector entities, families, and individuals scramble to keep on top of this pandemic.
First, many are now displaying socialist principles that were once out of sync with the held rapacious capitalist principles. I have long maintained that capitalist entities, however large or however small, cannot privatise their profits and expect to socialise their losses. Indeed, in a country like Jamaica that is still struggling to find its true location on the economic rankings, there has to be a balance. Now, in this era of COVID-19, with the visible disruptions in income for many, requests for and proposals to bail out everyone — from the smallest entrepreneur to the largest corporation — are reaching fever pitch. As they currently exist, the greater part of the capitalist structure is out of sync with a world that is teetering on the edge of economic ruin. Today, the principles of communalism and communism stand as the saving grace of many. Indeed, we see where the embargoed Cuba, that bastion of socialism on our doorstep, has sent medical professionals to aid us in Jamaica, as well as to Italy.
Second, as capitalism faces this onslaught, loans and mortgages are under pressure. If you have a car loan, a student loan, or a residential mortgage you are aware that the principal that you borrowed attracted high interest payments over a sustained period of time. There are penalties for late payments, and many times even for closing out these loans before the maturity date. This was because the interest remained the lifeblood of these capitalist financial entities. Now, as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the financial sector globally, there is a well-meaning desire to secure the good of the customers. Financial entities in Italy, England, Scotland, and New Zealand have granted from three to six months mortgage holidays for their customers. Here in Jamaica, the Government announced a three-month moratorium on National Housing Trust mortgages, along with a 0.5 percentage point interest rate reduction for existing mortgagors. I am waiting on Jamaica's commercial banks, credit unions, building societies, and other similar institutions to also provide some similar relief. Yes, there may be investors waiting to scoop up real estate and other bad debt options for a fraction of the value, but financial entities must do their part to reduce the inevitable financial pressures on their customers, and to also send a positive message about their corporate social responsibility in these trying times. We are all in this together.
Third, many workplaces had maintained control over the bodies of their workers; utilising mechanisms to mark “time in” and “time out”, rather than focusing on output as real indicators of productivity. Today, many such entities and their well-trained managers are now in a frantic scramble to hold on to control over the bodies of their employees as governments mandate stay-at-home options for non-essential staff, or where institutions have to close their doors because of contact with an infected person. In a lot of these instances there is a mad scramble to ensure these telecommuting staff members keep their shoulders to the wheel. E-mail by the second, daily log of activities, or putting workers on 24-hour call are but a few of the methods being used. But, with the rapid growth of and access to technology, telecommuting and flexi-work arrangements should long have been the norm in many entities. Now, COVID-19 has forced the rapid normalisation of these options.
I still believe that there was never any real need for many to fly all over the world on a weekly basis simply to attend meetings. Yes, there are instances when physical presence is a necessity, but with the rise of the wonderful technology and its various implements what about attending some of these meetings virtually via options like Skype, Zoom, Bluejeans, TeamViewer, Google Hangouts or ezTalks? Instagram and Facebook also provide opportunities for videoconferencing, and you can have useful meetings via WhatsApp.
Fourth, many parents are now facing the reality that their little bundles of joy are not really always so joyous. And, that teachers and related caregivers really do some serious hard work. Children usually arrive early in a not-fully-aware state to a daycare, kindergarten, preparatory/primary, or secondary/high school on weekdays. Adult children in college are shipped off to live on various campuses or in towns and cities away from home, while some commute back and forth daily. Whatever the age range or situation, placing children in an educational institution on a daily basis means that someone other than their parents has the joy of taking care of them for an extended segment of the day. Some schools also offer aftercare facilities which free up parents to work late or complete some necessary tasks before their usually tired bundle of joy returns home. With the closure of schools and the move to use online options, parents are face to face with the demands of managing their children's entire daily schedule. If the memes and stories on social media are anything to go by, many are finding it “interesting” at best and extremely stressful, at worst. “I need my sanity back. It's difficult to work with a two-year old,” a friend explained, stating that he was ready to go back out to work after his first week of working from home. The joys of parenting do abound in this new normal.
And, as more countries, states, and cities institute lockdowns, early cut-off times, and restrictions on social gatherings, entertainment options have dwindled significantly. But entertainers have, of necessity, become more agile. For example, Majah Hype's Instagram Live moments and his IGTV videos provide much-needed comedic relief for many Caribbean people globally. I had a great time with Quizz on Facebook Live and her Quarantine Playlist of hard core 1990s dancehall last Friday, and also enjoyed a live performance from dancehall artiste Roundhead performing on Facebook Live last Sunday evening. Other DJs and artistes, like Tony Matterhorn, have been keeping fans happy on Instagram Live. I was also invited to share in a Jazz Quarantine Concert on Facebook Live by a friend in Tobago. And DJ D-Nice hosted over 160,000 people from all over the world in his Club Quarantine party on Instagram Live on Sunday. Everyone is somewhere else, but, simultaneously, they are all together in a “room” in cyberspace, observing all the social distancing and self-quarantine or self-isolation protocols. Is this a temporary fluke to get us over this hurdle, or the new frontier of entertainment?
Telecommuting, online meetings and classes, ordering groceries and other necessities online, being paid by direct deposit, paying bills online or via an app, receiving funds from abroad via direct transfer, keeping in touch via social media, and being entertained online are now becoming normalised for many. But, what is really being transformed?
Corporations are being encouraged to use the technology that has long been with us to make the lives of their staff and customers easier. Financial entities are being encouraged to think more about people than making supernormal profits. Governments have to get all touchy-feely, being more hands-on and much more visible as this pandemic takes hold. Parents are being encouraged to spend more quality time with their children. Everyone has been sent to spend more time at home, with their families, their friends, their pets, and their plants. People are being sent back to their kitchens to be reacquainted with their stoves, to prepare more of their own meals, and reduce their dependency on bulk cooked foods that are often unhealthy. Cars, buses, commercial planes, and large cruise ships are now parked, thus reducing the volume of toxic emissions that choke the environment. We are all being sent back to the land to give our respects to the Earth, maybe to plant a backyard garden.
I have long watched the frantic scramble that was bestowed to this generation as the “way to succeed” and the way to live this “success”. Now we are being told to take a break from the maddening pace, work calmly, and stop and smell the roses. Today, many of us have little choice but to chill, take stock of our health, our families, our homes, and be kinder to each other. As we bravely face this global scourge and mourn the loss of those who fall in its wake, I truly hope that the sum total of these transformations result in the betterment of us all, as humans.
Do keep safe and healthy, and maintain your physical distance, even while holding fast to your social networks.
Donna P Hope, PhD, is professor of culture, gender and society at The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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