Why are People Online Losing Their Minds Over the Pandemic?

When panic turns into a pay check

Everyone, it seems, wants in on COVID-19 action, as if contracting the disease — or just suspecting one might have had it — were a badge of honor. Rapid tests have replaced toilet paper as the ultimate social marker and status symbol, online emotional incontinence is at all all-time high. Lockdown has made the search for attention and validation even more urgent, and individualism is going rogue. In the race for clicks, all tactics are fair game, including using kids as a shield to conceal our fear-mongering ways.

Bragging about having the means to hoard supplies is already yesterday’s news. Those who can afford to get tested for COVID-19 are rushing to broadcast their good news while sharing their all-consuming angst in minute details. They’re holding court on social media, as tone-deaf and self-centered as ever, while the populace gawks, mesmerized by such outsize vainglorious greed.

In a country whose administration is more interested in the health of its economy than its people, the Trumpian ethos of profiteering has self-marketers rushing to monetize fear, their new niche and income stream. And we, the huddled masses, the wretched refuse continue to hail them as heroes while sinking a little deeper into despondency.

There’s no sense of perspective anymore, only grifters to whom fear is manna from heaven.

Kicking people when they are down isn’t our most appealing trait as a species but if there’s a buck to be made, the least scrupulous media outlets — and they’re not all that numerous since journalists are beholden to a strict code of ethics — and internet typists will fight for it.

Despite dismay and disbelief, narratives fanning the flames of fear still abound as there’s nothing like it to get us to pay attention. Doomsday prophecies appeal to the most vulnerable by allowing them to give into their fear since someone else appears to be going through the same thing. At a time when keeping calm, using common sense, and being reasonable is the only way to protect our collective mental health, some deliberately undermine it for profit.

Unconscionable? After all, isn’t this the internet we created, a chorus of aberrations we’ve elevated to superstardom because schadenfreude makes us feel better about ourselves. Now that the internet has also become our global lifeline, we need to reckon with our digital frankensteins otherwise the internet will only divide us further instead of uniting us.

And yet, we all need support right now.

We have finally achieved equality in the most humbling, sobering way there is and, well, no one noticed. Instead, capitalism and individualism keep recusing themselves and finding ever more obscene ways to gloat. This is the internet we’ve been used to for so long we keep enabling it out of habit and because, deep down, we’re all big softies whose emotions are running wild.

For some of us, COVID-19 means that an already precarious situation has now become unsustainable. Lockdown life has made our already tentative mental health dangerously wobbly but we’re hanging in there, against all odds, at least until someone somewhere comes along and ups the ante. They have it way worse than the rest of the planet combined and they want us to know.

But not because they need comforting or reassuring.

They only want us to think they do. Comfort and reassurance are decoys, gimme your money, sucker. Forget considering the public interest or using the internet as a way to lift one another up across borders. It’s not about humanity, it’s not about compassion, it’s about money and someone’s bottom line.

And the more afraid we are, the more it increases.

The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable and the more susceptible to exploitation we get. We don’t want to feel we’re going through this alone so sob stories are catnip to our hearts. Never mind that they’re based on conjecture, the worst case scenario, the ultimate defeat. No one wants to have their cat feast on their eyeballs if the ‘rona comes calling, do they? I dread to think what contact lenses would do to their insides.

Look, we don’t like being reminded of our own mortality, it bothers us, this death business. We would prefer to invite the Grim Reaper in on a mutually agreeable date rather than be forced to endure their unexpected company for any length of time. Apart from the depressives, no one ever gives much thought about dying yet it happens to us all at some point. Then again, it’s not just the depressives who like to have a choice as to where, when or how, is it?

If you’re reading this, you’re alive so why not focus on this life under new parameters instead of your or someone else’s wild imaginings? We live in interesting times, everyone is having to make some adjustments. There are many stories of ordinary people stepping up in creative and often remarkable ways.

We’re finding out what solidarity is, in real time, as communities, as countries, as continents, as a planet and as a species. Can’t we agree this is a somewhat thrilling development in the history of humanity?

We have that one unprecedented chance to come together across everything that usually divides us, including borders. Fear really isn’t a smart choice when there’s already enough uncertainty, confusion for everyone.

Also, fear is often very different from facts, if only because we fear what hasn’t taken place yet and may not even come to pass. Unless coming from a place of expertise, speculation is unhelpful and a waste of everyone’s time. We already have our hands full with a difficult present so we might fare better if we give one another a (virtual) hand.

And we can all do that. We can all amplifying what matters most. We don’t have to be essential workers to contribute to relief efforts.

We just need words and the internet to put forth a little human warmth into the world and deflect the darkness.

What we focus our attention on tends to grow.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

The human condition is not a pathology・👋ASingularStory[at]gmail・ ☕️ https://ko-fi.com/ASingularStory

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