Friday, January 31, 2020

When Viruses Become Viral

The outbreak of the coronavirus and the fear concerning it’s spreading is a good example of what happens when a metaphor is returned to its literal meaning. In the current technological culture, something going viral refers to the fact that it spreads like wildfire on the internet. Certain memes for instance can go viral and permanently change the meaning associated with language and syntax. The way a virus spreads may have something in common with a message that goes viral but it may also be the reverse. A message can have something in common with a virus (and both have an uncanny resemblance to the fires devastating Australia and parts of California). For instance, certain viruses are known to be particularly hard to contain because they're always morphing into new a more deadly forms of themselves that become immune to the vaccines created to treat them. Who's to say that a vaccine created to treat the coronavirus as it exists today will be effective on the strains that will appear in the time it takes to create it? Similarly, many people live in a state of isolation in which their little missives are forgotten almost as soon as they’re asserted on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. On the other hand, like the old lady putting her coins in a Las Vegas slot machine that hits the jackpot, every once and a while they hit the mark and when they do the enormous power of the engine becomes revealed, with sometimes disconcerting results--a tongue-in-cheek remark unleashing unwanted notoriety. The flu epidemic of l918 reeked devastation in many countries, but it’s no comparison to what can occur today. Space and time are no longer barriers and viruses like their internet counterparts have the potential to become more viral than they ever were.

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