Information Pandemic

Section from mega-trends map

It’s interesting to me to see how the media, and hence the public, are responding to Coronavirus (I think that’s the correct way around, but it’s hard to say who’s leading who sometimes). The risk of death is remote (a mortality rate of between 0.7% and 3.0% currently depending on circumstances and location), which is almost nothing. Ebola had a mortality rate of 60%, SARS 10%. The numbers 0.7-3.0 are still significant if applied across a while population, but the response of the media, and hence governments and people, generally seems over the top.

I think that perhaps the reason for this might be the current narrative, which is doomsday apocalyse (think of climate change and species extinction in particular). It’s also got something to do with how we think about the future generally, which is logical but hugely unhelpful (we simply extrapolate from current data or conditions in a linear manner) and perhaps the fact that people are generally dreadful at working out real probabilities or understanding the impact of feedback loops, counter-trends or unexpected events.

And, of course, connectivity is fuelling everything. It’s spreading the virus, but it’s also spreading panic about the virus. News is travelling to fast to be properly analysed, fact checked or placed in proper context.

Anyway, as they say, my particular interest at the moment is how the current panic about Coronovirus might work with other anxities to create some kind of super-anxiety or mental collapse (shades of Future Shock – see After Shock). I eluded to this somewhat when I created my risk radar and spoke of unseen combinations of events and put Global pandemic alongside Loss of antibiotic efficacy, Mental health epidemic and Global financial system collapse. The thought was repeated on the list of global gamechagers on my map of mega-trends.

Section from risk radar

So what to do? I think the Stoics have it nailed. Worry about or do something about what you can influence, or control, and don’t worry or try to control about what you can’t. In the words of Seneca, “The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs on tomorrow and loses today.” Or, as he also put it, “You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours.” It will be what it will be.

An age of anxiety
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