Posted by Mad Mitch on  UTC 2020-10-29 06:03

Men (it's always men) now over sixty, now crabbed and tetchy, wondering what they have done to deserve ending up in this blighted epoch, they are the ones who will remember surfing the waves of the worldwide web on primitive browsers.

They will remember those siren links in simple webpages: 'cute puppies' or 'Dishy Debbie's House of Fun' etc. They were days before we all became reality-toasted cynics: a link would say 'Click Here' and that is exactly what we did. But one click was enough: the browser unfolded into an endless stream of new windows as fast as it could. You would see more of Dishy Debbie than you bargained for, half a second at a time.

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The computer was so busy opening new windows that it had no time to bother with its user's attempts to stop it. We crusties will never forget that feeling of helpless panic.

There was only one solution: pull the plug; pull it out of the socket and watch the lack of power and an airgap work their silent ministry.

Pulling the plug was the mark of mindless desperation: in those days an abrupt power collapse would frequently wreck the hard disk; the reading heads would not retract, as they do today; lacking power they stuck where they were and scored a track the surface of the disk, grinding themselves into oblivion in the process.

Days of messing around were needed to get the computer running again, but at least the manic creation of those windows, two or three a second, had stopped. And you never had time to look around Dishy Debbie's place after all. In the real world Dishy Debbie was some creature of the night who earned a fraction of an advertising cent for every window he managed to open.

Nowadays our computers are safer but events can grip us surfers by the throat. As if we didn't have enough on our mental plates – US elections, Brexit etc. – some idiot clicked on the COVID link, meaning that we now have the overlapping windows of the COVID panicdemic popping up faster than we can read them:

There's a vaccine on the way – no there isn't; the vaccine will work well – no it won't; the vaccine has been tested thoroughly – no it hasn't; infected people lose their immunity in a few months – no they don't; wearing a mask protects you and others – no it doesn't; schoolchildren are not at risk – yes they are. Millions will die in the coming winter – no they won't; the old and already sick should be locked up in a secure facility – where they can die safe from COVID-19; trust experts – the science – the politicians – Twitter users – no one …

The mindless desperation once brought on by Dishy Debbie et al. is the metaphor for our benighted COVID times. Will it ever end, this frantic, out-of-control, unstoppable lunacy? Of one thing we can be sure: it will continue until the plug is finally pulled out of the socket, allowing life to reset.

The pulled plug when it comes will be some catastrophic event with worldwide reach. An earthquake, a volcano, a tsunami, a war, a weather catastrophe, a transport disaster, an assassination, an asteroid impact (don't laugh) – or even a real plague. The four horsemen have not gone away. A few weeks of a great catastrophe will give us the chance to compose ourselves and reset our lives without COVID. What was all that about? we shall ask each other, baffled. Better get a new disk.

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Top and bottom images: Competing saviours vying for the attention of the panicked mob during The Apocalypse in Schedel, Hartmann / Wolgemut, Michael [Illustrator] / Pleydenwurff, Wilhelm [Illustrator]: Registrum huius operis libri cronicarum cu figuris et ymagibus ab inicio mudi, Nuremberge, Consummatu[m] autem duodecima mensis Julij. Anno salutis n[ost]re. 1493 [1493.07.12.]

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