I am well acquainted with a person who works at one of those high-tech outfits in the UW Research Park on the west side. One of the things the company does, is assist the hard-of-hearing to communicate with family and friends via a telephone/computer interface.
Many of the people who use this service are elderly, and they’re very concerned about the swine flu. But the conversations they have about it are very scary. The most common misconception which they keep repeating in conversations with each other, is that you have 12 hours between when you first start coughing, and when you die….unless you have a medical intervention.
Who knows where this stuff starts, but it sure gets repeated a lot.
Another frequent conversation involves eating pork products of any sort. If one elderly person tells another that it’s safe to eat pork products, odds are strong the other party will say something about how it’s called swine flu because it comes from pigs and anyone who eats pork products is gambling with their life.
We tend to believe our peers above all others. Senior citizens believe senior citizens; kids believe other kids. Ask any kid (or teacher). You can’t get pregnant if you do it standing up. You get breast cancer from wearing a bra to bed. You can’t get breast cancer if you wear a bra to bed. Putting an aspirin in a glass of Coca-Cola will get you high. And on and on. You remember the stuff we heard and believed as kids.
And then there was the Vice President’s insert-foot-in-mouth moment last week.
I have another acquaintance who owns a travel agency in Madison, and about an hour after Mr. Biden made his on-air gaffe on the Today Show, the travel cancellations began flooding into her business. I ran into her doing some shopping this weekend, and she was understandably cranky about it. She thinks Biden’s ill-advised anti-travel rant has pretty much killed her business for a couple weeks.
I suggested she contact Biden’s boss about getting some bailout money.
And don’t even get me started about how Twitter has contributed to the huge amount of misinformation out there. The swine flu is germ warfare from the terrorists. Thousands of deaths in other countries that the U-S isn’t telling us about. Incredibly crazy stuff that people who overdose every day on Facebook and Twitter thrive on.
The broadcast media, which could play such a huge role in educating people about the real dangers, goes instantly into full-panic mode. They’ll take whatever is the worst possible scenario suggested by the least reliable ‘public health official’ and run with it. The 24-hour news cycle thrives on the extreme.
When it’s all said and done late this fall, and we know how much an impact swine flu really had, will anybody go back and hold accountable those who made the wildest predictions this spring? Not likely. We’ll have some new crisis to deal with.