A university is a big operation. Sometimes things don’t work as they should. Take toilets. They are crucial. But sometimes plumbing breaks. Our university-wide email notification system informs us if in one of the buildings toilets have to be closed for repairs. Then we know that it’s best to try our luck in other buildings and can plan accordingly.
The new top administrator was scandalized that there are messages about toilets coming through the email notification system. Eeew, nasty. So without warning anybody, he banned tasteless toilet talk from the messaging system.
And then, of course, plumbing broke down in my building. Since nobody received any notice, people were running around the building like scared rabbits, hoping to find a functioning toilet. If you know you’ll have to schlep across campus to do your business, you plan accordingly. But with no warning, it gets icky.
After repeated requests to give us our toilet news back, the new administrator relented. It’s kind of funny, though, that an adult person would have this intense reaction to such a normal, everyday subject.
It rained yesterday in Montreal. Some lightning and thunder, nothing special. It was a rain like a million others. But at the beginning of the rain, everybody got an amber alert-type warning on their phones about the upcoming precipitation. I’m not talking about a text message from a weather service. I’m talking about an alert that one usually gets only in extraordinary situations. The kind that covers your whole screen and you don’t choose whether you want to see it or not.
It turns out that this started with COVID. All of a sudden, the intrusive alert became something that appeared regularly on trivial pretexts.
This is one of the many ways we are trained to exist in a constant state of exception. There’s always a crisis going on. And a crisis justifies extraordinary measures.
People will say this is a little thing, and who cares? But these things always creep up on us in little steps. And then we accept endless intrusions into our phones, homes and bodies in the name of safety. “Oh, it’s just crazy stuff that happens on campuses. It has nothing to do with us.” “Ah, it’s just a phone notification, who cares?” But none of this is accidental. Little by little, it sneaks into every area of life. And then it’s too late to do anything.