Type coronavirus into Google and the search engine states “about 2,570,000,000 results (55 seconds)”; well, it did so at one point on Tuesday morning. Without then doing anything further, there are daily statistics for Spain and worldwide. There is a map of cases (for Spain). There is a brief explanation about the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), and symptoms are listed.
At any moment in time, the number of results will vary, but whatever it may be, it is colossal. In whichever country, Google will adjust the initial page accordingly, as nothing else matters. The internet has been consumed by Covid. The virus has created not just a Covid society, this is a Covid information society. The virus creeps into everything, it conditions everything, and the virally consumed internet has bred an information explosion unlike any other. Good news, bad news, true news, fake news, facts, speculation, restrictions, the lifting of restrictions, data, data, data, and ever more data.
Information has always been my stock-in-trade. The other life before The Bulletin was the management of information, its collection, its selection, its packaging, its organisation and access, its interpretation, its publishing. It was information specific to the world of business and of management, a labour of dissemination that well predated the internet. There was masses of this information, but no one wanted or needed masses. They wanted relevance, novelty, drilling-down; they wanted someone to do the work for them.
When the internet came along, the masses of information flooded out, but there were still the same requirements. Neat tricks like relevancy software began to be programmed, and along the way, these rudimentary steps in internet information management became algorithms that - and we know this all too well - can be as manipulative and exploitative as they are useful and relevant.
The algorithms are plainly at work with the virus information, but even these can’t somehow corral the information into manageability. There is so much of it, too much of it. Our heads explode with the immensity. The virus may control our lives, but the information does just as much. For some, the seekers after the truth about Covid, whether this truth be defined as denial or acceptance, this terabyte universe of information is a mine of confirmation, reinforcement, terror and perhaps also reassurance. For most of us, we would wish it away. We don’t go hunting. We have no desire to. We can’t avoid it anyway.
People can handle only so much information. Normally we process what we need. There are inbuilt information filters. But when the information fires in from all angles, day and night, 24/7 and now close on 365 days, the filters break down. The information immune system is broken down. The virus gets everywhere. It’s in our heads. The brain doesn’t possess protective antibodies to prevent the entire consciousness from being overwhelmed.
In an interview last week, the coordinator of mental health in the Balearics, Oriol Lafau, made an observation that - for me - stood out from all the other information of that day, which was invariably to do with data. He said that “the bombardment of information is very difficult to manage”. You can say that again. It was an obvious statement and yet at the same time it was one that needed stating. This bombardment, he added, creates frustration. It can also leave people feeling tired and sad. Tired at having to hear so much, saddened by all that surrounds them or afflicts them, frustrated by life’s abnormality.
But what particularly left an impression was the fact that I, as a disseminator of information in this current life, was not just following what Dr. Lafau had to say, I was putting his words out there for all others to read. I am part of the bombardment, and it brought home what is the responsibility that goes with this. Yet being inside this enormous bubble (to use an in vogue word) of information can inure one to the ramifications of the bombardment - people’s mental health, where Dr. Lafau is concerned - but also normalise, even trivialise the biblical-scale horror of the virus. There is, as an example, the easy-to-digest packaging of cases in municipalities. They’re like a bloody football league table. Who’s gone up, who’s gone down.
This said, it’s how we make sense of all this. How we try to order the information. Provide what is far from the every day with an everyday style, because this far from the every day (the virus and all that it consumes) is now everyday. Then also, I guess, I have to enquire after my own mental health. Don’t feel sympathy, that’s certainly not what I’m saying. Save that for the trauma of those who have lost loved ones and of those on the frontline. But there is the exposure to the bombardment from within the bubble. Too much information. You can’t switch it off.