David Stairs

A sign of our times

There are interesting new ways to mark the passage of time. I generally take account each week when I venture out of my home to grocery shop.

Two weeks ago everyone was very focused on wiping down the handrail of their grocery cart. Last week, the retailer, Meijer, decided it would be more economical to have their greeters pre-wipe carts.

This week tape lines 6′ apart appeared on the floor of the local post office. I also noticed several people at Meijers wearing gloves, and some wearing masks. I’m reminded of the scene in Cabaret where by the end of the film nearly everyone in the club is dressed in a brown shirt with a blood-red armband. Feature drift. These things happen gradually.

I have not purchased any hand sanitizer, but I did discover a cannister of sanitizing wipes under the sink. It’s been there for years and I’ve never used it before.

My youngest son told me about his recent trip to the grocery store. He and his friend purchased some bleach and proceeded to sanitize every item when they reached home. I told him I had no intention of wiping down my groceries, then found myself doing just that. I will probably return to a habit we developed when we resided in sub-Saharan Africa: washing all produce in bleach water.

If you’ve ever read an account of plague, by Defoe or Camus or anyone else, you know the sense of denial you feel that “it can’t happen here,” so that when it does, the empty grocery shelves and hysterical news reports seem altogether surreal.

Last week I posted some examples of the ways scientists are modelling their pandemic informatics. This week I discovered Nextstrain.org. This site compiles the information uploaded by researchers from around the world in an effort to model the phylogeny and transmission of viruses. Their graphics for ncov, novel Coronavirus, give one a glimpse of its 100-day romp through homo sapiens and canis lupus familiaris, the common dog. You can even view the data sets in four different layouts and follow an animated transmission path.

Courtesy of The Telegraph

Fast Company recently referred to the N95 mask as “the most important design object of our time.” As pranksters continue to waste masks by applying them to public statuary worldwide, I begin to wonder when someone will erect a statue to Lady Macbeth, who neurotically kept washing her hands in an effort to remove the blood she had spilled.

Now we all seem like 20-second obsessed Lady Macbeths. But I imagine nobody would get the point of her statue unless it was wearing a mask.

David Stairs is the founding editor of the Design-Altruism-Project.

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