A luddite walks on a beach. J Latchman

The Luddite

The only news in the village and in fact in villages all over the holy land has been the announcement of a downgrade to Level 2 of the Corona virus prompted lockdown. Basically, it means that booze and smokes are legit again and we can once again move freely between provinces. There’s been talk of getting onto roofs at midnight to celebrate the unbanning of alcohol and tobacco sales — but there’s an unseasonal chill in the village — which will hopefully quell the midnight antics of my fellow villagers.

No doubt medical staff will be reporting on spikes in alcohol related accidents and trauma by the end of the week but that will fade into the background of the celebrations of being able to legally get hold of the daily tipple. And allegedly the corona virus infection rates are dropping — so it’s supposedly OK that we go back to our old ways — remember the rose tinted time when the new normal was already cliché?

There is another view and bunch of people who have committed to going on pretty much as they were in higher levels of lockdown until there is more certainty that COVID-19 is well and truly put to bed and it’s as safe (as possible) to venture out into more crowded public spaces. One of the wise elders of the village said to me ‘live as if everyone will be infected and most of us will recover’. Years from now, it will probably be clearer what we learnt from all this, what mistakes were made and what we should be doing if it happens again. And then there’s the vaccine trials and work of campaigning for the vaccine to be universally available.

It’s an altogether strange feeling to be living in this time of the Corona virus, as much maybe as during the other plagues and flus of modern history. The deliberate distance you have to put between yourself and others occasionally feels unnatural; even for a my-space / your-space fascist. I’ve seen people doing the ankle click and elbow (what is it called even?) or some combination of them in greetings. I’ve seen a lot of distinct head nodding and a few hat wearers in the village have been spotted doing an old-fashioned doff of the hat.

It’s also much harder work having to read people’s expressions so much more keenly when interacting. I guess it’s easier if it’s a person you’ve known for years before (like everyone here does) but newbies probably only glimpsed peoples faces a few times before the initial hard lockdown which was way back in March. We then moved to the masked age of various levels of semi-lockdown and I’m only now starting to get a sense of people behind the masks. With this much effort required in real life, it’s no surprise that doing hours of online calls and meetings is more taxing. At least for some people. There are those who seem to thrive on the online calls, meetings and events scene. They are online all-day for work and then after work-hours; get online again for concerts, events, launches, auctions, family dinners, birthdays and weddings.

It’s a lot of time engaging through a rectangular screen, however nice a screen it might be and it rarely leaves me feeling anything like a real-life encounter might. I was sharing this feeling with a young(er) relative who listened intently. She then said ‘there’s a word for that reaction — it’s Luddite, right?’

I smiled and nodded and decided it was less about naming and boxing and more about reflecting on the ways we read, process, absorb and give off non-verbal cues and what that means for understanding — but quickly realised that’s a blog for another day. She knows the word luddite, which itself is enough. I made a mental note to add her name to my will and take a little more interest in this human.

Later that evening, scouting around a part of the family, I begin to wonder about the health of the gene pool and then remind myself that, as the descendent of barely literate parents myself, it’s not been that long that we’ve had the privilege of formal education. So I’m happy to celebrate a young relative that knows and uses what some in this little village on the periphery of Durban might consider ‘big’ or ‘fancy’ words when she speaks. In fact, it makes me smile to think of her sitting at my Mum’s kitchen table, explaining to her the word Luddite. And my Mum’s eyes shining with pride at this descendent of hers being ‘so sharp.’

Except my Mum is well past all this human-form palava and probably very happy wherever she has moved on to. Still, I’d wager that she’s wearing her smile at some of her descendents sharing time, tea, freshly baked goodies, new words and laughter on a sun-drenched winter afternoon.

Even if it’s all via varying sizes of rectangular screens.

Viva! Zoom, you own us now.

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Oppi Stoep

Oppi Stoep

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Comms practitioner, aspirant writer and absent-minded baker at #WakeAndBake