Do you remember travelling through airports in the wake of 9/11? The rules and restrictions, the intense and anxiety-provoking security, the way it changed society's views of people of colour trying to travel… I certainly remember thinking, "I can't wait for everything to go back to normal". That was 19 years ago. Travelling never went back to "normal".
When you're in complete solitude for a month, as I am, it's impossible not to walk around the rooms of your tiny house with a tinfoil hat on. Over the last few weeks, I've been wondering what freedoms we're giving up now during this lockdown that we'll never get back again.
I worry the world is changing now (for the worse) in ways we will never see reversed. Get your aluminium foil roll ready: here's how I think our lifestyles could be forever affected.
The end of privacy
New arrivals into the country are now asked for geo-location permissions to their smartphones, so their quarantine adherence can be tracked, like in China. This kind of behaviour is expected in authoritarian nations with dictators at the helm, but no laws in New Zealand or Australia allow police to make such requests of citizens. Once we permit geo-tracking by authorities, I fail to see how this won't be extended outside of COVID-19.
No more partying
Even when this lockdown is well over, I can't imagine being allowed in a bar full of cramped partygoers again. Call me hedonistic, but I think humans have a fundamental right to party – to dance with our sweaty peers and let out problems loose to a club's house beats. How is this ever going to be legal again? Does nightlife – one of life's true freedoms and pleasures, especially for the young (and young at heart) – even have a future?
Police have assumed extraordinary powers during the lockdown, to the point we don't yet know if arrests for non-compliance to the lockdown will hold up in court. The approximate 10 per cent prosecution rate for lockdown-breakers suggests to me that the thousands of arrests are well beyond reasonable numbers. Yet we've now accepted that cops pulling us over isn't just for traffic infringements: it's for "the (unlegislated) safety of the general population". What's next for government demands of police overreach? I wonder if unwarranted searches and detainment will happen at a constable's discretion? Will minority groups (e.g. people of colour, the LGBT+ community, the poor, and homeless) inevitably suffer first?
No right to gather and protest
Peaceful protest has been part of New Zealand's psyche since the 1981 Springbok tour, but during this lockdown the NZ Bill of Rights Act that grants us freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly has been put on ice. When prevented from gathering together to protest issues, seek action, or demand change, we lose an essential element of a free and democratic society. I ask, what's stopping public health risks being used in the future to prevent physical protesting?
No more touching
Physical human touch is what I've craved most during the lockdown. We're now all conditioned to fear each other's touch. Does this mean when friends and family greet each other, there will be no more hugs and kisses? We all have a fear of contracting a virus from close contact now. Think of all the human-to-human beauty services you used to enjoy: haircuts, massages, waxing, etc. Will these be possible under persistent social distancing rules?
Google and Apple are developing a Bluetooth-based app together that alerts you when someone diagnosed with COVID-19 is nearby. How is this not a breach of medical confidentiality? What happens when stigma is attached to a positive coronavirus diagnosis (as it was during the AIDS Crisis) and people become afraid, hostile, and violent towards others around them? When apps facilitate discrimination, app-based living will have truly revolted against us.
Responsibilities shirked in a WFH world
Work-from-home (WFH) will be the future for much time to come, which will lessen our social engagement in the long-term. This allows us to shirk off employment responsibilities because nobody is physically watching over our shoulders – those who spend five hours on Reddit a day (and only three hours doing actual work) can change that ratio to 7:1 as they WFH without their managers seeing it.
On the other side of the coin, WFH has highlighted "non-essential" jobs in many industries. I foresee companies using COVID-19's economic effects as the sole reason to lay off employees, whether the reason for doing so is legitimate or not.
In trusting our governments, we have told them we permit civil liberties suspensions "for the greater good". But there are a lot of self-aggrandising or misguided leaders in the world right now. Why wouldn't they use lockdowns for their own political gain in the future? In proving we can be tightly controlled, we may have opened a door to future undemocratic behaviours. I see our free and independent lifestyles as the biggest losers here.
Maybe total isolation is making me paranoid, but I believe that drastic measures taken to contain COVID-19 could lay the foundations for totalitarianism. Before you take the tinfoil hat off me, it's time we think about that old Russian proverb, "nothing is more permanent than a temporary solution". Take it to heart. In coming months and years, as this coronavirus wanes, we must be careful ensuring its control systems do not.