#VoxPopuli | Power and Knowledge in a Post-Pandemic World
by Jose Raymundo Y. Mayo II
For the vast majority caged in their homes during the pandemic, one of the few things that connected them to the outside world was a black mirror. Whether it was a TV screen, a laptop monitor, or a smartphone, it allowed everyone solace and community from the growing isolation. More importantly, it created sources and avenues that would communicate information vital for everyone to know: rates of transmission, protocols to follow, or even breakthroughs in combating the disease. Communication now more than ever serves as a tool to not only allow people more informed choices, but also to arm people with the knowledge of how to keep themselves safe and in the process, save more lives.
However, this isn’t surprising. Communication has always been the foundation of human society. It’s what allowed the earliest humans to coalesce and survive against the forces of nature. It ensured that knowledge would be passed down from generation to generation, prompting innovation. What’s interesting to note however is the reciprocal relationship between human behavior and communication. On the one hand, communication gets to mold human behavior, informing our choices, but on the other, communication is ultimately molded by that very same behavior, changing how information is shared, and how people interact with information.
The pandemic has undeniably changed not just communication but also how people interact and react to information, given we are facing one of the most pressing existential threats of our time. The most apparent shift would be the prioritization of communication channels to put out information about the pandemic. Through constant updates by government officials, or media sites that are becoming more accessible, people have recognized that knowledge is a form of power, and the barriers to access it have been lowered significantly. The increasing social weight placed on information has allowed more people to make more meaningful and informed choices for themselves and for society. This shift is a welcome one and one that is likely to stay, especially in light of the increasingly digitized world.
The flipside, however, is that not all information is accurate. While the issue of false information is something that has predated the pandemic, it is being brought to the forefront due to our current context. With the ease of access comes with it the ease to put out whatever you want, regardless of accuracy, and the effects of this are most palpable when lives are on the line. Current issues such as vaccine hesitancy brought about by inaccurate information about vaccines, or medicine that is ineffective in combating the disease yet has surged in popularity are all likely to be the tip of the iceberg from here on out. The impact of inaccurate information is not just disagreements on a social media site, but it manifests in literally slowing down efforts to inoculate people and the degradation of trust towards science and medicine.
While hopefully the future holds a world free from the virus, it’s unlikely that we will be free from the sentiments that were created due to it. Growing anti-science sentiment and the erosion of truth will be issues that we will have to address not just to combat the pandemic, but also to prevent misinformed choices that ultimately impact not just individuals, but whole communities. Even just as a student, being active in addressing misinformation wherever it is found goes a long way to alleviate the issue. Proper dialogue with other people, and treating each other with decency and respect is something that sounds trivial, but allows people to be more receptive whenever criticism is levied towards them. Addressing the issue in this way, with a firm commitment to the truth, but with flexibility and kindness towards the person, would allow us to help inform other people and ensure they are willing to be informed.
On a subtler note, while communication during the pandemic largely manifests itself digitally, after the pandemic, face-to-face communication will likely also change as well. Most of the protocols of the pandemic are unlikely to be phased out immediately. Face masks, social distancing, and other practices will still likely be followed either to prevent any further spread or just to alleviate people’s worries about catching the virus. This will undeniably change the way we interact with each other. From handshakes to hugs, physical interaction is largely going to be limited. However, the pandemic would have likely acclimated us to this. What is likely to serve a greater culture shock would be the difficulty in picking up nonverbal forms of communication. Being able to catch small reactions in someone’s face, a look of confusion, a tinge of sadness, are all likely to be harder to catch now given half of their face is covered. On the physical front, communication is likely to become a bit more difficult for everyone.
Regardless of whatever hindrance people will face after this pandemic, or whatever shift in culture and behavior people will have to endure, we would all benefit from a bit more empathy towards one another. Collectively, we will have gone through one of the biggest challenges the human race has faced in recent memory, and hopefully due to that, we’d be able to understand the struggle people face, both big and small, and offer some help. Whether it be helping someone correct misconceptions picked up from social media or being a bit more understanding and patient when talking to one another, the path to recover and rebuild after this pandemic isn’t one paved alone; it is an undertaking that everyone must actively play a part in.