Revisiting the 20th Century for 21st Century Approaches to COVID-19 alerts….

Culture is a fascinating element of our lives and defines many of us. On the other hand, experiencing different cultures to that of what we grew up with, can enrich our perspectives, and change our behaviours, outlook and opinions.

For the last couple of weeks the world has become gridlocked in a tsunami of fear, uncertainty and in some circumstances sadness due to the death of loved ones.

Communities have started to rally the residents together, and in some instances they have become more connected through digital channels and devices (c.f. Marston et al., 2020). We don’t know when COVID-19, will strike, in some communities, towns and cities, COVID-19 has already arrived, very much like an unwelcome guest at a dinner party, who arrives, half-cut, holding a half empty bottle of Rioja. 

Social media channels are blowing up, users are sharing a myriad of information, advice and tips.

Last night, I saw one video on Twitter posted by Dr Ben Ackerman – who successfully defended his PhD on the 9th March. Dr Ackerman it would seem is unable to attend his graduation ceremony and instead improvised his own version. Personally, I have to say having gone through such a ceremony myself, sharing the stage with 9 others in 2010, which kinda took the glow and sparkle out of it all for me. However, Dr Ackerman captured how important it is to him, coupled with an appropriate soundtrack, stage (his hall way/kitchen was the ceremonial stage) and commentary. In addition to us all congratulating Dr Ackerman on his achievement (via Twitter), he inadvertently demonstrates how such ceremonies and celebrations are going to be lost for many people. 

But we are been told to stay at home, to not conduct any unnecessary social activities like going to the pub – such a popular outing and whether positive or negatively forms part of British culture part.

What we have seen in the last several days is the creation of community groups in a bid to offer advice, assistance and support to all residents – young and old. We know this unwelcome visitor is lurking and will pounce soon enough. Been supportive to neighbours (regardless of whether you know them or not), residents, and loved ones is key and necessary. We have heard of the ‘Blitz Spirit’ and for some in our society, they will remember this level of community spirit and stoicism.

Again on Twitter last night I saw a post that suggested citizens could place different coloured pieces of paper in their front window. A piece of green paper signified all is well, while red represented  the unwelcome visitor had arrived, and the resident(s) of a house may need additional assistance such as an ambulance or a food delivery. In UK and European societies, these colours are indoctrinated into us from an early age. Be-it learning to cross the road, or learning to drive (e.g. traffic lights). However from a North American perspective and their culture the meaning is reversed. Marston and van Hoof (2019) discuss these nuanced differences in reference to fire exits placed within buildings. Additionally, in Eastern society red denotes luck as opposed to danger – in Western society. The field of semiotics is fascinating and offers an insight into how signs/symbols, icons and indices are formed coupled with their respective meanings.

Back to pieces of coloured paper in windows. My initial gut instinct was positive. However such a method is problematic, because it highlights those respective individuals are vulnerable, and could lead to criminal activity. A another example of highlighting to neighbours and communities is the ability to place a poster in one’s front window (something I saw in a group), stating that the person in the house has a weak immune system and are susceptible to this unwelcome visitor, and deliveries should be left on the door step and not to expect the door to be answered – how terribly unBritish. However, there are many quirks within English culture, which includes forming an orderly queue and certainly no queue jumping and inviting yourself over amongst others. 

In addition to my gut instinct going into over drive, I was struck by how these forms of signalling the presence of COVID-19 in the front window, had teleported me back to the 20th century. 

Initially starting in WW2 the Jewish community were directed and forced to place the star of David on their clothes, and property, and then in the 1960s where some lodgings, BnB’s and similar would have placed posters/notes in their windows stating ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish.’ 

I get it!

I understand that our daily routine and activities have practically come to a standstill, and we’re hearing hour-by-hour news updates, information and new directives. I know these two examples of signifying how COVID-19 has invited itself into one’s residence & most certainly didn’t bring a half empty bottle of Rioja. I cannot help but feel this type of approach to placing posters/coloured pieces of paper in windows, resonates from periods of history where identity, culture and respecting each other for who they are was not tolerated.

Thankfully we live in a different decade and century. 

This is the 21st Century, where tolerance has improved. We certainly do not see such signs and symbolism presented in various properties, establishments and businesses. To be honest, I don’t have the answer to this. As a person who lives on their own, I would like to notify my neighbours and passers-by that COVID-19 had rocked up and I may need assistance by having an ambulance called for, or to have my groceries left on the door step. I’d also like to think that my neighbours may be concerned for my welfare. 

I am tech savvy, I am a member of a community group, on social media, and swapped numbers with neighbours. The jury is still out as to whether I would hang anything up in my front window – I honestly don’t know. Maybe citizens will find alternative methods of notifying one another that COVID-19 is visiting, apart from verbal and digital forms of communication…

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