RealVirus or IdeaVirus? What do you think?

12 Mar 2020 by Steven Giannoulis

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Coronavirus is a phenomenon in two parts. The actual virus, I’m still in two minds about how big a deal it is, given how its numbers so dwarf annual flu statistics. Yes, we need to be cautious, especially if we have reason to be, but I do sometimes wonder if we are making more of it than what it is. I’m sure those people stuck on an infested cruise ship, with no port to go to, disagree with my assessment.

And then there is the phenomenon some are calling the IdeaVirus. It’s this nasty virus that might end up causing more damage than the actual virus. Just about every business person I’ve spoken to has their business affected by it. Worse still, billions got wiped off global markets this week and many economies, like ours, suddenly move from mild growth to recession. 

As I read social media (just stop it, I hear you say!) I get the sense we are in a bit of a cultural shift that’s driving behaviours: people are not shaking hands, not hugging, buying toilet paper in crazy quantities, paying stupid prices for hand sanitiser and face masks, refusing to touch door handles, fly places, go to large meetings, press exit buttons, drink Corona beer or use sign-in screens. We’ve suddenly all very aware of germs that have probably always been there. 

I found myself on the plane last night wondering about the people in the seats next to me. Their duty free bags made it clear they’d been overseas, which got me thinking where they might have been. Any other time I would have been thinking ‘you lucky bastards'. This time, I’m worried that they’re about to give me a little souvenir from Italy, China or Iran. To be fair, they looked more like London backpackers.

Mindsets are changing, beliefs are being challenged and, sad to say, some of NZ’s natural racist tendencies are coming out. The virus (real and ideas) has the potential to change how we live for ever. 

Did you know that the early rapid rise of online shopping is directly linked to SARS, that last big hysterical virus we experienced. Once it become habit, many people didn’t go back to ‘normal shopping’ and online shopping grew and grew. And given how empty malls are these days, the thinking is that online shopping (and toilet paper sales) are about to have yet another huge boost as people avoid contact with other people. 

It does makes me wonder if this is yet another internet phenomenon? Not like gangnam style, dancing babies and cats doing cute things, but a self-fulfilling panic we’re perpetuating ourselves through too much information – much of it half truths, speculations and uninformed opinion? If this was the days before the internet, would we be going this crazy? Would it just be 'I hear there’s a particularly nasty flu going around this year'?

Food for thought? What do you think?