COVID-19 and London’s Great Fire

There have been a lot (a lot) of articles written about life after the COVID19 pandemic, and there are no doubt a lot more to come (like this one). Some are fairly prosaic, others imagine radical changes to our way of life. They all reflect the existing biases of their authors. My own bias is towards this take by Mark Ritson:

When we emerge out of lockdown the consumers, the media and marketing itself will quickly snap back to former heuristical norms. That does not mean society and the consumer will not have evolved from the late 2019 period, but that the evolution that was taking place will continue, perhaps catalysed slightly by the events of this strange period. But it won’t be drastically different.

Mark Ritson

I think that a useful historical parallel is the ‘great fire’ of London in 1666. The fire destroyed somewhere in the region of 13,200 houses, as well as a great number of civic and mercantile buildings.


Blaming technology for human problems

There’s something I find really objectionable about this advertising campaign that’s doing the rounds at the moment. “The more you connect, the less you connect”, made by Ogilvy Beijing, shows a giant phone screen physically coming between family members:

A mother physically separated from her child by a giant smartphone

Far from finding it “brutally honest”, I find it dimwittedly dishonest. It suggests a notion that before mobile phones we lived in an age where we always gave undivided attention to the people around us. This is a myth. It’s false in the extreme.

Does a phone take your attention away from the immediate environment? Certainly. As does television, or a book; you could easily change this campaign to substitute a book for a phone and it would be equally true. Russell Davies article Unbooked: How to live mindfully in a literate world skewers this concept brilliantly:

There’s increasing evidence that books actually change the shape of the brain and they’re literally addictive. Not addictive in the sense of the actual meaning of the word, but addictive in the sense of what people mean when they say ‘addictive’ – which is worse.

Blaming technology for human problems is at least as old as the written word, and it is annoying to see the idea propagated so unquestioningly.