“This is a terrifying time for us all…!”
How many emails have you received which open with a phrase such as the above? More than a few, I’ll wager. I’d also bet that most of them were looking for money or support for some cause or both. The charity and single-issue campaign industries didn’t take long to latch onto the Covid-19 pandemic as a useful marketing device. Which is fine. That’s their job. It’s a job I used to do myself, and I never felt bad about it. Public attention is a commodity and there is fierce competition for a share of it. If your job is to sell a business or a product or an event or an idea, and you’re serious about it, you use whatever hooks and pulleys are available to help pull your campaign into the public’s eye line and throw a spotlight on it.
I don’t mind people trying to sell me stuff. Why would I? It’s a perfectly benign practice. There are rogues and villains out there, I grant you. But it’s not that difficult to identify and deal with them without putting up barricades that block the good with the bad. I recall an incident that occurred some years ago when email was still relatively novel and ‘spam’ was rife. I had been trying to contact a particular business with a view to putting some work their way but my emails were being bounced by the recipient’s spam filters. Eventually, I had to phone and after a few attempts finally managed to speak to the proprietor. In the course of the ensuing brief conversation, I mentioned to him that I had been trying to contact his company by email and suggested that he might want to have his IT people ease up on the anti-spam measures. He immediately rejected the suggestion saying that spam was a real nuisance and, besides, they didn’t get much business via email anyway. “But…”, I started before realising that this was one of those situations where if you have to explain you’re almost certainly wasting your time doing so.
I got a lot of business by email contact. I also got a lot of spam. Filters took care of some. The remainder I reckon I spent no more than five minutes a day dealing with. It was not a big deal. Certainly not the big deal the media made it out to be. And I feel much the same way about marketing emails in general. Every once in a while, one of them turns out to be useful. And there is not a huge cost to dealing with the rest. One of my first tasks each day is to open Gmail and select all unread items. I then go through them unticking the ones I think deserve attention before smiting the rest with the delete button. It’s a two-minute task. Admittedly, I’m retired now and don’t receive anything like the same volume of email – at one time I was dealing with as many as 500 a day – but the principal is the same. Spam is no longer an issue. filters have become so sophisticated it’s rare for anything that could be called spam to make it into your inbox. But I still regard marketing emails as the price we pay for this amazing means of communication. Just as junk mail is part of the price we pay for having a postal service. You’d have to be a bit eccentric to nail up your letter-box just to keep out the junk mail.
Nor do I concern myself unduly about modern data harvesting and targeted marketing methods. My attitude is that my contact information exists so that people can contact me. If it has value to marketers it’s because it’s difficult to obtain. Mine isn’t. All my contact information is out there for anyone to use. That, as I say, is it’s purpose. If Amazon wants to take a stab at selling me something on the basis of my recent purchases or browsing habits, let them! In the odd idle moment I Google nonsense things like ‘chocolate chip-pan’ just to confuse the algorithms. Despite that, every so often they call to my attention something genuinely useful or an ‘unmissable’ bargain. I have tracker blockers in place but only because they come with the browser or malware protection software and are on by default. The point is that as much as is possible or reasonable of my personal information is stripped of its value to data harvesters by being made freely available. I take sensible precautions, then deal with whatever arises.
I am not terrified of Covid-19! Why would I be? I have taken the issue seriously. I have informed myself about it. I have taken sensible precautions. For the most part these precautions are simple, involve little or no effort and have negligible or no cost. With only the exceptions too obvious to mention without succumbing to pedantry, anybody can take these precautions. Most of those who can’t do any or all for themselves have someone who can help. There is no reason for anyone to be terrified!
Not only am I not terrified, I’m not even worried. I am barely concerned. At a personal level, Covid-19 is merely a minor inconvenience. The best information I have found to date is that the infection rate across the UK is 1 in 10,000. I’m guessing it’s a bit lower in Scotland. With odds starting at 10,000:1 there’s plenty leeway for wrong guesses. I take those sensible precautions. Moreover, many of the things that are precautions against coronavirus infection are things that I’ve always done. Using hand sanitiser, for example. I never go anywhere without a bottle of hand sanitiser in my pocket. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember. So, I’m taking all reasonable measures to avoid infection – including near-perfect social distancing. I’ve only been out of the house once in more than two weeks and then only had contact with or came in close proximity to one person – my chiropodist. My wife is working from home and does go out each day for shopping etc., but she too takes all reasonable precautions. Which is pretty easy because everybody else is doing the same. There’s hardly anyone around and those there are choose to keep their distance.
Taking all of this into account, I reckon my chances of being infected are getting into the territory of being struck by lightning while holding a winning lottery ticket. I have no reason to be terrified!
Suppose I do get infected. Should I be worried then? It’s early days. But available statistics suggest that around 80% of those infected by Covid-19 will experience only mild symptoms. Some will experience no symptoms at all. Around 15% of those infected will become seriously or critically ill. Around 2% will die. The odds are really stacking up in my favour.
Of course, some demographic groups are more at risk than others. At 69, I’m borderline for an age group with elevated risk. But I have no underlying medical conditions which would aggravate or be aggravated by the disease. To say that the risk to me is negligible would be to exaggerate it considerably. I have no reason to be terrified!
Of course, this is all about me. It’s about the risk to me. It’s about my chances of catching Covid-19 and becoming seriously ill or dying. But the statement in that email was that we are all terrified. That statement encompasses me and a great many people not so very dissimilar to me. It includes all those who are at even lower risk than myself. People such as children, who are only very rarely affected even when exposed to the disease. People who have even less reason to be terrified. We are all individuals. While we may do what we can to help and support others, ultimately each of us is only responsible for oneself. We are responsible for our own actions and our own choices. So how something like this pandemic affects us as individuals – personally – is as important in it’s way as the epidemiological data.
Besides which, all the measures to bring the pandemic under control depend to a great extent on how we respond as individuals. The choices we make. The actions we take. We have to think of ourselves first. Because what we think matters. How we perceive the threat matters. It must do, because it influences our decisions. So, its a good idea to start with a rational assessment of one’s own status. For the vast majority of us that assessment can only lead to one conclusion – there is no reason to be terrified!
None of this means that we shouldn’t take the pandemic seriously. Because the pandemic affects populations as well as individuals. The status of your community or country or, indeed, the world cannot sensibly be assumed from that personal assessment. They are two separate things not related in any way that is of interest to anyone other than the most obsessive statistician.
The truth of the matter is that we are not all terrified. And most, by far, of those who are terrified have no more rational reason to be terrified than have I. It is false to assume that everybody is terrified. It is irresponsible and contemptible to try and make people terrified. If we are to get a grip of the situation, everybody needs to first get a grip of themselves.
What we should be afraid of are those who want us to be afraid – those who would exploit our fear.
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