The anthropological shock of Covid-19

I thought this extract from Ulrich Beck’s final book Metamorphosis shed light on our current situation. The role of expert systems in rendering the crisis legible is familiar, with “the means to make the invisible threat to their life visible” lying in the mediation of events. The obvious different though is how intensively mediated Covid-19 is. As Beck writes on pg 98:

It was the ‘anthropological shock’ in the aftermath of the Chernobyl catastrophe as a media event which made the invisibility of the radiation risk visible (Beck 1987). Based on the direction from which the winds blew the ‘radiation cloud’ westwards, whole populations in Europe–beyond class and nation–experienced that, in the existential questions of their own life and the life of their children, they depended totally on media representations, narratives, experts and anti-experts quarrelling with each other: they depended as well on technological equipment, maps, rumours and competing theories introducing a vocabulary to everyday life they didn’t understand. Not all risks–not local ones (such as a smoking chimney)–are characterized by a state of natural invisibility; it is those that are globally produced, distributed and defined. Without the information provided by the media and other social institutions, citizens are not even aware of the risk to their life and to the lives of their children and neighbours.

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