Lockdown 1990s style

I am one of the fortunate ones, living in a large house with a garden.  I’ve always grown fruit and veg and have been making my own bread since 2007.  I also spent nearly 10 weeks locked-in in the house and garden a couple of years ago, after almost destroying my knee. That was interesting preparation for this lockdown. I have continued to work from home and have been able to cope, but I am acutely aware that that is not the case for so many others.

Like many people in similar situations working from home, I have been relying on some local facilities, but mainly home deliveries of online purchases (not only food and from a wide range of companies and organisations) and filling a rugby-shaped void by exploring the catch-up feature of satellite TV.  Barring a panic about yeast, the things I take for granted have continued, though often in different forms and ways. That is not the case for so many others.

A couple of things have also made me think about how my behaviour during lockdown has been based on particular capacities that I now take for granted.

First, a tweet from a few weeks ago (and I have mislaid the source) simply asked how we would have coped with lockdown before the internet (which is shorthand for a lot more).  Secondly, as a relief from the computer and work, I have decided to read the Ian Rankin Rebus novels in the order in which they were written (I have read them before but through circumstances in a random order). I have some way to go, but the early books bring home our current reliance on phones and computers, as opposed to paper systems, payphones and faxes to the local shop. Whilst fictional, it does show accidentally how much has changed.

So, if this pandemic had occurred in say 1990 and we’d had to lock the country down in the same way,  what would be different and how would we have coped differently?  There are some things that would not have yet been invented including:

  • the smartphone (and its computing power)
  • the internet, the web and all that
  • satellite and streaming TV/music
  • twitter and other ‘news’ feeds
  • YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp etc
  • most non-local home delivery services (and click and collect)
  • Teams, Zoom and all other connection tools
  • Computers that can do things.

Lockdown c1990 (a generation ago) would have been very different.  Could so many people have acutally worked from home? Or would so m uch mor ehave to have shut down completely?  In the absence of connected devices how would we have obtained goods, services, news and so on?  How would we have survived with the 5 TV channels and limited radio choices? What would our shopping patterns have to have looked like?

You put all these together and I suspect that lockdown would not have been anywhere near as effective (or of course comfortable for some). The rate of infection and disease transmission might well have been higher as more of us would have been “forced” out.  Even more people would have had to be laid off or ‘furloughed’.  Much more work would not have been possible and our reliance on key workers in various sectors would have been higher.  Some elements could have been completed using the telephone rather than the computer (and indeed that is how our local garden centre initially moved ‘online’ in March), but the capacity (bandwith not really being invented then) would be limited.

It is often said that our technology, and its use makes us lazy, or that we have become slaves to it.  In reality it has probably saved lives. But it also points out that so many of us take these things for granted now, but that during this pandemic, so many people have not had access to the technology, the space or the finance to do the things they want.

Whilst “community” and local have been clear themes of the lockdown, access to the tools and finances to make these work for all have not been equal, as of course they were not prior to COVID. “Build, build, build” or “Build back better”  imply that we should focus on the physical facilities, and “rebuild” or “recover” and whilst that is part of the future, we must also focus on the social and people and the access to resources that so many take for granted. For many people, lockdown may well have felt like living in the past.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
This entry was posted in Click and Collect, Connectivity, Consumers, Covid19, Home Delivery, Internet, Internet shopping, Localisation, Lockdown, Online Retailing, Orkney, Social Inequality, Technology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Lockdown 1990s style

  1. Dorota says:

    Very interesting post. An interesting question is: Would the virus spread so fast and globally in the 1990s?

    • Leigh Sparks says:

      An interesting question as well. International travel increased the spread it appears, so not as fast perhaps. Patterns of movement and interactions globally and locally are important. But I am not an epidemiologist.

  2. Lynne Thomas says:

    1990: no devolved governments,
    No Boris Johnson et al. So it would have been
    Thatcher and Major to sort it. Hmmm..

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