The whole country is in lock down. Gatherings of more than two are banned. Church buildings are shut. Leaving home for any but a few limited reasons is outlawed.
I remember the Asian Flu outbreak of 1957, but as a 10 year-old I have little real knowledge. Today, we live in a different world, changed out of all proportion by two factors: First is the Internet and second is supermarkets. Supermarkets have a near-monopoly on food distribution – which operates on a Just-in-Time basis.
When demand suddenly surges, distribution can’t cope. We see empty shelves which, in turn, leads to low-level panic buying.
“I’m not panic buying”, everyone cries. What everyone is doing is buying their normal goods (groceries, toiletries, medicines) but getting one extra, “just in case”. Across the community, that doubles the demand and leaves half the population without. And that half is often the elderly, the poorly and those who are working frantically to help them.
The internet is not unrelated to our ”modern” way of doing things. It is the powerhouse behind the operation of distribution systems – but it is also a tool that we never had in 1957. In 1957, mobility of people was less and our supplies were provided on a far more local basis. Small shops exerted a greater control over their sales. A loaf could be put by for the District Nurse because she was known in the community and we’d be spared the distressing sight of that nurse sitting in tears because, when she came off a 48-hour shift, the shelves were empty.
The Internet has a lot to answer for – but even more, it offers such a powerful tool for us to use. Without the Internet, you wouldn’t be reading this magazine, even if you’re holding a paper copy in your hands. With the Internet, we’ve been able to set up ways to keep in touch; to provide resources for prayer and to create new communities.
On our street, one resident has set up a “WhatsApp” group. “Here?” I thought. “It’ll never take off.” Twenty of the 27 houses on the street have joined. Chat, information and jokes are circulating. I’ve never spoken to Denise at no.11 but yesterday we all celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary together. It is growing into a fascinating group. It’s interesting to see that the flavour of the discussion is subtly different from other groups I belong to, but this is what community is all about; a connection between people who are not indistinguishable clones.
Some of our number can’t, won’t or don’t use The Net, but during these days of isolation, it is one way (and a very powerful way) to draw us all together.