In Wuhan, only the green codes are free to move around as the city unlocks itself. A mobile app that tracks people’s exposure and risk to coronavirus is the new center around which the residents’ lives seems to be organized around. The yellows and reds are at risk and can put the city to a second wave of pandemic risk. Therefore, their movement is curbed. Even as the rest of the world casts doubt about this hyper-intensive surveillance on citizens, it will not be surprising when some of them will reach out to China to help them deploy the technology in their countries as we have seen with 5G technology.
As I watched that footage of residents showing green QR codes to pass through checkpoints at railway stations and highways, I thought human beings have reached peak technological moment in the history of science and technology. I say this because, freedom to move and the free will that each of us in democractic societies seem to have internalized to be as natural as the air we breathe, has been breached by technology. Like work, finances and our timelines this year, even society is now corrected with a ‘Covid Adjustment’.
It is the fifteenth day of the lockdown. As I begin entering these notes every night ( and publish the next day) I begin to think if I have something new to say. The newness tends to be about new ways of thinking through situations and problems. Sometimes it is a new insight or new observations on the world and its events. Perhaps, this newness seeds creation of new knowledge or change of status quo on occasions. The lockdown days have allowed for this space. It certainly comes with a conscious thought about being privileged to engage in these matters and not worry about loss of job and income.
The WHO database shows the world getting dotted by the coronavirus every hour. Not even the remotest of the islands have been spared. From French Polynesia to Faroe Islands, the virus has infected people. This pandemic is an unfortunate way to realize ‘our common future’. I am reminded of the Brundtland Commission’s Report of 1987 with the same title – ‘Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future’
Reading it again today, the Commission’s understanding seems ahead of its time and their apprehension proving correct with the pandemic, in these two paragraphs –
2. New Imperatives for International Cooperation
National boundaries have become so porous that traditional distinctions between local, national, and international issues have become blurred. Policies formerly considered to be exclusively matters of ‘national concern’ now have an impact on the ecological bases of other nations’ development and survival. Conversely, the growing reach of some nations’ policies – economic, trade, monetary, and most sectoral policies – into the ‘sovereign’ territory of other nations limits the affected nations’ options in devising national solutions to their ‘own’ problems. This fast-changing context for national action has introduced new imperatives and new opportunities for international cooperation.
And further –
3. Assessing Global Risks
The future – even a sustainable future – will be marked by increasing risk. The risks associated with new technologies are growing. The numbers, scale, frequency, and impact of natural and human-caused disasters are mounting. The risks of irreversible damage to natural systems regionally (for example through acidification, desertification, or deforestation) and globally (through ozone layer depletion or climate change) are becoming significant.
Another interesting feature of the report was that the Commission ensured to hear from the people by organizing Public Hearings in every region of the world over a three year period. It received over 800 written submissions and 10,000 pages of material.
Reading these reports from the past and looking at the contemporary world, I can only think of our democracies as ‘low energy democracies’. Unger was not being flippant. He argued that low energy democracies are those ‘that are organized in a form that inhibits the transformation of the structure, that makes change depend on crisis and that perpetuates the rule of the dead over the living.’ India has shown all of these characteristics, in my opinion.