Illustration by Jenny Wong
As we enter the home stretch to Christmas 2020, it’s fair to say 2 things: First, that things aren’t going to be the same as in our hazy dreams of years gone by, where everything played out like a fairytale. Second, we still have something to be thankful for. We just need to find it.
For me, there are three things I am thankful for, and I found a common thread tying them together under the thematic banner of “It’s way better than it could have been”.
First, I’m living in Taiwan, which has suffered perhaps the least impact of any country in the world. Life here has been humming along pretty much unchanged – we wear masks, but that’s not really a change. Wearing a mask here is just a form of standard and expected courtesy; if you’re going to expel infected air, the least you could do is cover your mouth, right? And not with your hand, that’s gross. My research suggests that the widespread use of masks in public here grew significantly in the wake of a SARS outbreak in 2003, a few years prior to my arrival. That and other measures have meant that life for me and my son have been pretty normal, except for the background worrying about my family in Canada being shut in and going stir-crazy.
SARS also inspired the Ministry of Health to do a deeper dive into what were the next level protocols needed to stifle the next viral threat. These included improved contact tracing and virus detection technology, involving the use of non-contact infrared thermometers at entrances of stores and public buildings, alcohol hand spray, the integration of health and travel records, traced nation-wide through one’s national health card and/or ID card, as well as cellphone GPS data. In countries like the U.S. that would be a real issue – but here, it’s done transparently and with the consent of the populace. Why? Because it’s two-way sharing: through cell phone apps, citizens can access the same data that government is using to control the spread of the SARS-COV-2 virus.
All of this is an aside to the main point that I’m trying to get to: the adoption of technology to solve, or at least address, our most serious problems, is inspiring my gratitude this Christmas season.
The second thing I’m grateful for addresses a potential problem faced by most people in HomebodyLand: isolation and loneliness due to increasing lockdown measures in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia.
Here’s where I get to what we can all be thankful for: Technology allows us to be in virtual contact with the people we love, no matter where they are or what physical restrictions have been placed on them.
Just imagine this outbreak had happened when I was a pup in the 1980’s, or even into the 90’s. The only point of reference we have for that era was HIV/AIDS, which had a clear means of spreading that could be more easily avoided by taking precautions. Lockdowns were not required or imposed. But what if COVID-19 19 had come along back then? What would you do if you were forced to stay in your home, separate from family, with no cell phones, or even internet, to keep you connected? Loneliness and isolation have degrees.
So, this Christmas, I’m thankful that I’ll still be spending time with my loved ones, despite everything.
And we’ll be chatting, and joking, and showing our new games, books and toys, thanks to apps like Taiwan-favorite Line, or Facebook’s Messenger or WhatsApp, or the burgeoning Zoom conference app.
I’ve been a harsh critic of social media platforms at times for what I deem to be a potentially corrosive influence on both individuals and society. And I use that regularly as my excuse for not staying connected with a multitude of people I should have at least made efforts to touch bases with. But those simple messaging apps that allow quick thumb-powered greetings, voice-to-text, audio and video calling – these are a godsend in a time like this, as they allow me to stay tuned in an intimate way with the small core of loved ones whom I can actually maintain in my small attention bubble. To be sure, lots of hugs and clinking glasses would make it better – but it’s still being together, seeing each other’s smiles, hearing each other’s teasing – it’s still pretty great.
Another example of big bad tech saving the day is Amazon.com’s technological and logistical juggernaut, which steams ahead zipping packages full across the ocean in impressive time, delivering presents to go under the tree while other packages sent through regular mail have been caught up somewhere, languishing in a sorting room, or maybe sailing past the Great Pacific garbage patch as I write this.
On Christmas morning, there you’ll find me, with my family sitting under our lame, ugly-duck artificial Christmas tree that I’ve come to love, with my son (who I’ve loved from the start) and opening presents with Grandma and Grandpa in Canada. We’ll laugh a little, tear open gifts, take short breaks to try out new toys and games. Maybe there’ll be snow on the ground back home and Grandma can turn the iPad around to let us see the backyard. I know millions of similar scenarios will be playing out for homebodies around the world. That makes me happy…and, grateful. Thanks progress! So, here’s to making the best of things! Cheer up, homebodies, you’re not alone, and Merry Christmas to all!