Lorenzo Davids writes that when he thinks of the backroom to enable his online experience, all he can see is a workforce, regarded by most of society as expendable. Picture Leon Lestrade/African News Agency/ANA.
Lorenzo Davids writes that when he thinks of the backroom to enable his online experience, all he can see is a workforce, regarded by most of society as expendable. Picture Leon Lestrade/African News Agency/ANA.

If the backrooms of the online world stop functioning, our new normal will crash

By Lorenzo A Davids Time of article published Aug 3, 2021

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After 489 days in lockdown, I am beginning to wonder what the new normal is? I have accepted that the world as we knew it back in January 2020 will never again return.

Every reopening of the country leads to another spike in infections and then leads to another harsher lockdown.

The Spanish Flu lasted from February 1918 to April 1920 – a total of 26 months, had four major waves and killed 50 million people. And we still have the flu today, which are essentially multiple variants of the 2018 flu pandemic, but now manageable because of progress made in scientific research and medication.

The one major difference between 1918 and 2021 is that we live in a much fuller and more interconnected world. From the design of the workplace through to travel, business and sport, we are a world that interfaces with each other on many more platforms than our forebears needed to in 1918.

Despite the single face on a Zoom call that is socially distant, there are thousands of people who have to make that single opportunity work. For those who shop online, thousands of people must prepare, pack and deliver those parcels to homes where the occupants are all safely isolated.

We recently went to collect a product we bought online to save on delivery costs. There was a queue of people doing exactly the same thing. Then when home, we found a defect with the product. The online store sent a vehicle to collect it and dropped off a replacement product.

All I saw across this exercise was multiple human touchpoints, all potential moments to spread the virus. I was most probably safer because I went the online route, but were the people who delivered it to me?

When I think of the backroom to enable my online experience, all I see is a workforce, regarded by most of society as expendable, who are in contact with each other much the same way we all were in January 2020.

If you have been to a fast food outlet recently and observed the number of delivery vehicles and their drivers all moving in and out to collect and deliver food to homes, I am not convinced of the human equity of the new normal.

I fear to know the number of food delivery people and online store backroom staff who have died of Covid-19 to enable me to not go out of my home to sustain my lifestyle.

Have we reached the moment where we are sacrificing the weak, the dependant and the unskilled to working in high contact engagements so that we can remain isolated, safe and uninterrupted?

In speaking to several people who do this kind of work, their experiences with the death of colleagues and family are as tragic as my own. The difference between them and me is that they have to do this work to earn a living.

If the backrooms of the online world stop functioning, our new normal will come crashing down. Currently, we are part of a system where those with means are being protected and served by those who have no alternative means.

Look at the scooter driver who drops off your food order. Look at the taxi driver who drives you to an event. Look at the online people who deliver your various products, from food to clothing to hardware.

There are entire armies of people who have to keep going to work, risking their lives – and many dying – to keep our new normal alive. For them, there was never an option of a new normal. They had to earn their income the old way. By preparing food. By driving people. By packing boxes.

These backroom people are all on the frontline, keeping us alive, fed and connected. Many of them have died to enable our new normal. They are often the poorest in our society.

* Lorenzo A Davids.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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