17 March 2020

Physical Distance and Social Proximity in a time of plague

As the viral CoVid-19 infection sweeps the world, people are being asked to avoid spreading the virus by Social Distancing.

But this, it seems to me, is the wrong approach. What is needed to avoid spreading the virus is not social distancing, but physical distancing. Social media provide us with the means of keeping in touch socially even though we are physically separated. So please keep in touch: read this blog!

But this gave rise to another idea.

One of the things we can do in times of physical distancing and quarantine is read books, and there are some fictional books about similar circumstances. It could be interesting to read some of them and compare their times with out own. Here are some I can think of:

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. In 1665, the Great Plague swept through London, claiming nearly 100,000 lives. In A Journal of the Plague Year, Defoe vividly chronicles the progress of the epidemic. We follow his fictional narrator through a city transformed-the streets and alleyways deserted, the houses of death with crosses daubed on their doors, the dead-carts on their way to the pits-and encounter the horrified citizens of the city, as fear, isolation, and hysteria take hold. The shocking immediacy of Defoe's description of plague-racked London makes this one of the most convincing accounts of the Great Plague ever written.

The Plague by Albert Camus. A gripping tale of human unrelieved horror, of survival and resilience, and of the ways in which humankind confronts death, The Plague is at once a masterfully crafted novel, eloquently understated and epic in scope, and a parable of ageless moral resonance, profoundly relevant to our times. In Oran, a coastal town in North Africa, the plague begins as a series of portents, unheeded by the people. It gradually becomes an omnipresent reality, obliterating all traces of the past and driving its victims to almost unearthly extremes of suffering, madness, and compassion.  

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. Kivrin is a history student at Oxford in 2054, and is given an opportunity to travel back to the fourteenth century to study the period at first hand. But something goes wrong. The technician who operates the time machine that sends her back is suddenly taken ill and cannot explain what has happened. His illness proves highly contagious, and results in Oxford being placed under quarantine, and it becomes a race against times (plural) to get Kivrin back. 

But there's more.

In addition to reading about it, how about writing about it?

What about a group of friends and friends of friends keeping in social contact by means of an electronic forum and sharing news of each other, which could become a kind of joint journal of a plague year?

We may be keeping physical distance, but that does not mean we have to keep social distance. Use electronic media to keep in touch.

And so I have started an electronic forum called Social Proximity -- socprox for short. To learn more about it and apply to join it, see here. In order to join you need to know at least one other member of the group.

Participating doesn't have to be complicated, or require great literary efforts. You can give a link to a blog post, if you have a blog. Just describe what your day was like -- did you go shopping? What was different from usual? Were there shortages of anything in the shops? Have you or anyone you know been infected by the corona virus? How is it affecting you? Are you going to work or working from home? If you are staying home, how do you fill your time? What books have you been reading? What's happening in your neighbourhood?

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