There is a story of a pompous man pushing into the front of and airport check-in queue. The check-in girl tells him to go to the back of the queue. ‘Do you know who I am?’ asks the man. The check-in girl asks the queue, ’can anyone help? This man does not know who he is.’
I sympathise with this man, not because of pushing into a queue, but because I am not known by my name any longer. The days when I heard people say, ‘Hello, Mike, nice to see you,’ have gone because, in COVID protection mode, no one sees me.
Reduced to a Binary Digit
I am known to my computer but only as a string of digits. The screen wants to know my ID number, password, authentication code, admin password, username, wireless key, PIN, account number or registration key. Then there are numbers and codes sent to my phone which last only an hour or so. If I go to a bar or restaurant, my phone communicates with a QR code. I can text my order and someone brings drinks.
How can one keep a biological identity when the world only sees you as a string of binary digits?
Gone is a warm handshake, a hug or a kiss. There is no chance to touch another, to feel their warmth, to smell them, to appreciate the smoothness or un-smoothness of their skin or to hear their voice undistorted by electronics. There is no opportunity to say that they look well, to admire a new coat or haircut.
What can be done? Zoom meetings are a poor substitute for face-to-face meetings, you cannot make comments to the person beside you. The only extra interest of Zoom is the person’s background. It is usually a bookcase with carefully arranged copies of Jane Austen, Tolstoy and Dickens when you know that they read Dan Brown, Mills and Boon and David Icke.
I am no longer biological me. I am a string of binary digits.
A Knight at Home
I have had to change my concept of home as well. Since I was sent away to school at the age of ten, my home has always been a place to return to. Now I am not allowed out. The virus is waiting out there. Trips must be brief, and you must be properly equipped. I carry a virtual walking stick to mark out my personal space, my face is hidden and protected behind a mask.
My pocket bulges with a bottle containing aloe vera and propranolol and a box of wipes. Sometimes I wear protective gloves. I am the modern equivalent of a knight in armour.
Things are different in the street, everyone dodges around you because you may have the plague, or they might have it. Favourite shops are closed, and the others have notices and lines on the floor and carry less stock than previously. There is one place designed to spread a virus, a public loo. You are invited, cajoled, threatened if you don’t wash your hands. To dry them there is a machine that blows spray and virus around as widely as possible.
I phoned the doctor for an appointment. Many of you will know the rigmarole, a lecture on COVID, diagnose it yourself, don’t phone us. Invitations to hang up and phone someone else. I was reminded of the joke about the psychiatric hotline. You know the one:-
If you are obsessive-compulsive, press 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, repeat.
If you are schizophrenic press 2 or 3 or whatever the voice tells you, etc.
Anal retentive patients should please hold on.
I held on and four days later had a conversation with a doctor.
A lady doing a COVID-19 survey phoned and said she was coming, phoned again to say she was outside in her car and could we answer a questionnaire? Then she had to come to the door, donned plastic gloves, and handed over COVID testing kits. Don’t shove it too far up your nose, she advised.
We did the test while she waited outside in the rain. We handed them over and she wiped them suspiciously and stuffed them in a large bag. What next? I wonder. We are still awaiting the results of a COVID test done 6 weeks ago.
Tips, bits and Telephones
We sit all day on our computers. My wife gave a shout of joy a few days ago. Three days later a tin of shoe polish was delivered to our door. Is that a triumph of technology or something vaguely ridiculous?
A trip out to the tip (big treat) is ridiculous. Tip, or civic amenities disposal facility as it is called by some, why use three letters when you can use thirty? It’s not a tip anymore. You must make a computer appointment, only one allowed per week, and the computer site is down anyway.
A different way of life is evolving. If you know who I am, please call me. A voice from BT will tell you that this number does not take cold calls.