Saturday, June 06, 2020

Saturday Morning Musings - living in a random world

I was searching for an image around the idea of a random world and found this image from North Coast Rep.

We do seem to be living in a random world. In January things still seemed stable, predictable to some degree. Here in Australia we had suffered first from drought and then major fires, but while they were major problems they were understandable, even predictable. Our various governments responded to the problems, with the focus then shifting to recovery.

Internationally, the difficulties associated with shifting global fault lines including the rise of China and a sometimes erratic US president were constant but familiar. The world's trouble spots - Yemen, ISIS in Africa, Brexit, Syria as examples - were known and sometimes reported. 

All this was swept away by covid-19. Suddenly, there seemed to be just one over-whelming dominant topic of conversation. Everything else vanished from coverage. Every certainty that we had vanished in the midst of shutdowns and change. 

At a personal level, the things that I had been doing (and valuing) to start a new life in Armidale stopped. My history course was suspended, local organisations closed, the new human interaction that I so valued stopped. 

Perhaps the biggest biggest blow was the decision by Australian Community Media to close or suspend so many papers. This affected me at a very direct and personal level. I had to work out what would happen with my columns. As someone who has written on the history of the newspaper press, as  someone who has had family connections with the papers and knew their importance, the closure deeply saddened me. I was especially saddened by what I saw as another element in the continuing destruction of the social and community infrastructure, the broader linkages in an area that I love and to which I have devoted a considerable proportion of my life.

The sudden closure of the Armidale Express office is a trivial thing in a global or even an Australian context, but is deeply personal. It happened just so quickly. What do you do with all the stuff in the office including back copies of the paper? What should be saved, or should it all be sent to the tip? 

Fortunately and thanks to local editor Laurie Bullock and my colleagues at the Armidale & District Historical Society, God bless them,  the newspaper archive was carried across the road and installed in the History Society meeting room. Now the bound copies of the paper from 1970 survive, at least for the present. But what do we do with them? The Regional Archives are shut because of covid-19  and have in any case been under pressure following the University of New England's decision to vacate the old Armidale Teacher's College site.  The Archive was struggling to maintain the collection it had and had to turf metres of documents. 

I accept that I am lucky.

 In some parts of the world, "seniors" were not allowed to leave home because of the risk to their health. At least in NSW, the advice was advisory, so we ancients could make our own decisions. I live in a comfortable house with a backyard and nearby walking tracks. Some of my friends did not have these options. I am also computer literate and was able to shift things on line. 

Mind you, I have still faced a learning curve here, one that I am still to master. I am not into Zoom and next week I am meant to participate in a podcast. This requires me to download a new app onto my mobile and then learn how to use it. I know that I need too, but do not feel confident enough!

I said that I am lucky. The social and economic disruption forced on many has been enormous. 

Consider a young person enrolled at university who has lost her casual work and is now living at home with her parents. She can't go to classes, although on-line may be available. She is suffering loss of human contact, loss of independence. She fears for her future. Will there be jobs when she finishes?

These are first world problems compared with many countries where people are starving as a consequence of shut-downs, but they are still very real to the individuals affected.  Perhaps it's not surprising that there has been so much kick-back against social distancing and restrictions. 

In Monday Forum - what are the possible longer term changes from the covid-19 pandemic? I wondered about the real changes that might flow from covid-19. I suppose that my thinking here was Australian-centric. Globally, the economic effects flowing from the pandemic are likely to to be most important. My concern was more micro, the the extent to which the shut-downs and consequent responses would have long term effects on the way we live and work or whether things would simply snap back to the way they were as things improved. I suspect more of the second. 

While covid-19 was still raging, the death of George Floyd at police hands and the subsequent protests largely swept covid-19 off the front pages in many countries. I doubt that anybody could see the video footage of his death and not be moved. This was another of those random events that acted as a catalyst. If Mr Floyd had not been killed in that way, if the police had stopped, if his death had not been recorded, then the protests would not have happened. 

The media I generally follow is very Western-centric. Indonesia is Australia's nearest neighbour and yet there has been little coverage here of events in that country. You have to read the English language Jakarta Globe or Jakarta Post to find coverage of covid-19. Interestingly, there appears to have been very little coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests. The same holds for the Hindustan Times or for some of the other papers I have looked at. 

 Given the absence of international reporting outside covid-19 or the Black Lives Matter protests, you could be forgiven for thinking that all other matters were in abeyance unless they had direct domestic effects. However, if you dig down you find that other things are happening. The problem is to find the information required to make sensible judgements on their implications. For the moment, they remain random activities, some of which may come to bite us.  



Anonymous said...

Thought you might like this short, general, muse on the present position/role of the press:

The prior articles on that site are also worth a browse imo - Issue 42 for an Australian slant. Have a lovely day Jim!


p.s. I love the cartoon introducing Issue 45 :)

Anonymous said...

Also, I found myself taking close interest in that young autistic kid just now found in Victoria. Something simple to worry about; shades of the "little boy lost" from my youth.


Davey Bacaron said...

This is such a wonderful sharing. Looking forward to reading more!

Anonymous said...

One of the most visceral BLM stories I've stumbled upon lately:

Not trying to stir the pot. It's just, I wonder sometimes about the treatment we deal out to our fellow humans.


Jim Belshaw said...

Afternoon kvd. First of all, thanks for the general link to policy for pandemics. As you suggested, I browsed back and found it interesting. And I did enjoy that cartoon!

I found the discussion in Issue 45 a tad depressing. Yes, predictability (placement, slant) is important, but I don't think that it properly captures why people bought/buy newspapers. Just as there are/were many types of newspapers, so people read them for different reasons.

Seven or eight years ago I suppose I bought the Age for the last time. I was visiting Melbourne and as is my wont I bought the local rag. I was appalled at the decline in the print paper. There was almost no content. Seven months ago visiting Canberra I bought the print edition of the Canberra Times. Ditto reaction. Something similar has happened here with the Express, in Daceyville with the Southern Courier.

I read to be informed as well, sometimes, entertained. But the reasons I buy or read particular papers vary. When the paper ceases to fulfil the reasons I stop buying or reading. There are some issues here I am still thinking through. My thinking keeps evolving.

We are living in an odd world, one in which information overflows but yet is increasingly information poor. There is a post niggling here, triggered in part by my return to Armidale. Sydney is now my new information black hole. I'm still interested in the place, but have no idea what is happening there.