“The entropy of the world strives towards a maximum.” – this is an expression I have always remembered from thermodynamics lessons. We fight against this law all our lives. We clean our desk today, but it will be a mess again tomorrow. It is the same with our living space, kitchen, garden, and even our body and mind. It is no different during the lockdown – we live, work, learn and relax in the same small space: our home. And in turn, this makes it difficult to understand the chaos in our heads and our environment, and it takes a lot of time and effort to put things in order.
Entropy is an important concept in physics. It is the measure of disorder, chaos or degeneration in a system. At this point it seems as if entropy has become the measure of things. It seems like we have given up fighting against it. And sometimes it seems that we have completely surrendered to the chaos. In more normal circumstances, science provides us with clarity, structure and guidance to tackle entropy and bring order to chaos. At the beginning of this crisis it seemed to (still) be the case. Scientists and virologists explained to us in understandable language what the consequences of COVID-19 are and why we have to stay home. The aim of these measures: to limit chaos and ensure hospitals did not become overloaded. We all remained (and still remain) obediently in our homes, admittedly engaged in a battle with chaos. It may not be possible to create order at home, but they seem to be doing just that in the hospitals. At this point, the curve appears to be flattening. So we can be proud: proud of our medical and security personnel, proud of the people in the food and transport sector, and proud of ourselves. We have all shown solidarity with our good behaviour every day, no matter how difficult.
The chaos in our homes, on the other hand, seems to be going the other way. And so, another fundamental law of physics takes its toll, “the ideal gas law (V = nrT/P)”. This law states that the volume (let’s say, our space in these corona times) is inversely proportional to the pressure (our stress) in a system. We all feel the consequences. Our home is a much smaller space (volume) than the world in which we lived before the crisis. As a result, it is inevitable for our stress to increase. In many living rooms, this law of physics is increasingly becoming a reality. We are gradually getting tired, and there is only one solution for this: increase the volume (space), so the stress can decrease. And so we have to get out again, it’s that simple. This is the only way we can collectively get rid of our “corona stress”, but to do this, we must be allowed to leave our homes of course. How do we tackle this?
In an inclusive society, we embrace complexity and diversity. We do this by looking for the balance between letting go on the one hand and offering guidance on the other. Relying on others’ sense of responsibility means letting go, but we also need to provide sufficient structure and guidance so we don’t end up with chaos. And there in lies the pinch. Outside is complete chaos: the scientists dictate the laws, the politicians can only make suggestions. Citizens, companies and organisations should know for themselves how to interpret and apply those laws and suggestions. We are supported in this by an unprecedented stream of news, interpretation programmes and even more news – although full of chaos: the scientists dominate simply by being present, the politicians seem to have disappeared and only excel in their absence. And then there is fake news: the populists’ favourite. So we must take control over the chaos now. Dear politicians, we need more space and less pressure! Reducing the lockdown step by step is not a problem, but please let it offer us some perspective. After all, the increased pressure is difficult to sustain due to the chaos and lack of space.
In order to achieve this, everyone will have to take responsibility, and I believe that is possible – even though there are already many political leaks at the time of writing this blog. Scientists must again limit themselves to making suggestions. Politicians must take responsibility and clarify these suggestions. It is their duty to come up with a plan that gives us perspective. Concrete, understandable guidelines and laws are undeniably part of that plan. Citizens, companies and organisations must take responsibility for themselves by applying the guidelines and laws, preferably without making their own interpretation of them, and with the necessary common sense.
Let’s hope that the Belgian safety council takes responsibility this week, and let’s hope it is based on confidence in the common sense of responsibility felt by citizens, companies and organisations. If necessary, the exit plan will be activated a few weeks after 3 May, but the plan must be crystal clear. We’d like to know this week when our children can go back to school. We need clarity about when companies, shops, restaurants and cafés can reopen. But we also need to know what the conditions are. Let’s give priority to the social challenge now instead of the “corona apps” technology, and if possible, without too much entropy.
Let’s take responsibility for ourselves. Let’s drastically adjust our behaviour and stick to the rules of social distancing. Let’s display the necessary hygiene by regularly washing our hands and covering our mouth when we are in public areas with many people. Let’s think about how we can continue to support working from home and improve our culture concerning open-plan offices. But please don’t force us to make the smartphone our guardian of responsibility, especially with all the current scientific uncertainty.
In an inclusive society, the Bluetooth signal from our smartphone should not determine where we can and cannot go. After all, a digital ankle bracelet goes against the principle that people are all. One cannot use technology in a sustainable way like this. In an inclusive society, technology only has a supporting role. In my opinion, the proven method of manually investigating who you’ve been in contact with is more appropriate than the application of technology, which has been pushed too far in the form of apps. After all, we receive an empathetic call from an expert if we continue with the method of manually investigating who you’ve been in contact with, and this is better than an app that will provide you with a cold, inorganic green, orange or red QR code. The expert can offer us personal advice about tests or self-quarantine. If necessary, the experts are there to reassure you, or even help you out. At the very least, this method is more personal and social. Moreover, the chances of our privacy being violated are smaller, while science still gets the valuable information it needs. In an inclusive society, everyone takes their own responsibility, security guards are not required. By letting ourselves take full responsibility again, we get back the space we need, and the stress decreases. We want it, and we are ready. The time has come to put everything in perspective again, and to offer us perspective.