As a writer and inspirational alum, my assignment is to share my perspective with you. That’s part of democracy, right? So, I’m here to speak about culture: our human connection (digital and social) and the impact of COVID-19, the disease created by the new coronavirus.
You might be thinking, “Wait! What does the coronavirus and culture have in common?”. On a cellular level, not a lot―but on a societal level, I’d argue that there are some interesting parallels to be made, such as growth and adaption.
New ways of connecting
As the virus spread across Europe, it has had a particularly strong impact in Italy. By March 2020, Italy had applied social distancing in different ways. What started as suspending major events continued with quarantine and other mandates to stop the spread of COVID-19. This included closure of businesses (except for pharmacies and grocery stores) as well as travel restrictions. What happened when part of the Italian population was isolated to their homes? Well, this did not stop them for connecting!
People are breaking their isolation using the digital solutions we have been enjoying for decades. The most remarkable events have gone viral. I’ve seen virtual-parties on social media and people singing and playing music from their balconies. It’s like a huge jam-session (or a balcony festival) and maybe it could become the next future cultural event! Anyway, it’s around those viral snaps of reality that it hit me, as it has some occasions before: when many or all of the structures we created and rely on (the economy, our jobs, education, social lives) are interrupted―culture survives. And new solutions are tested.
Adapting to digital solution
You know the person at work that gets annoyed anytime you suggest you’d have, “a meeting over [insert online platform here] next week?”, this person will have to adjust to the technology that she or he has not been inclined to accept nor conquer. Now we all must adjust to digital solutions and a new workplace culture. The switch to remote learning is something our students and teachers have tried before, for Spanish-classes and other single subjects. Now they’ve all had to jump into having the whole days of school carried out online. But, just like my experience studying a master’s degree online―I am sure they will be just fine!
COVID-19 has had an impact on everyone. On 14 March, people in Sweden were advised not to travel abroad, earlier in March events with more than 500 participants were prohibited. I am a dual-citizen of Finland and Sweden. The border between Sweden and Finland is called one of the friendliest borders of the world, located 26 km from where I live. We´re used to drive across to Finland sometimes several times a day, to shop, pay a friend a visit or go skiing. I am now advised to stay where I am, in Sweden. People that work in Finland and live in Sweden (or vice versa) are, however, not prohibited to go work. These are some of the ways COVID-19 affects us living here. The world we live in has to change to meet the new challenges that this virus-outbreak has brought on.
What about, above Arctic Circle Sweden?
I live in the northern most region of Sweden in a town called Pajala. The municipality of Pajala is categorized as a sparsely populated area, or as I like to call it―a spacious, welcoming, area in the north. I feel belonging to the minority of Tornedalians and Meänkieli-speaking population1 of Sweden, and I am grateful for all the languages my location and cultural context gave me: the sauna culture that I enjoy so much and the storytelling tradition of Tornedalen in Swedish Lapland. As I reckon you´re now interested in travelling here, I’ve lately noticed there are hardly any magazines without traveller’s advice. Magazines that where printed weeks ago gave me reminders on how travelling really has become a big part of society, almost a lifestyle to some and, why not, a part of culture. Traveling does not aid this pandemic situation, and quite frankly, for me, it does not feel as tempting that it once did.
Reducing the growth of the coronavirus requires adaption
Travel is not the only industry being impacted, event planners all over are watching the grand finales of their hard work get postponed or even cancelled completely and considering their time wasted.
This is, however sad, an important decision and reducing as many events with large groups of participants need to be cancelled as a measure to decrease the opportunity to spread the virus further. But, must this all be time or work wasted? It could in fact be time well spent. Did you know William Shakespeare created, ‘King Lear’, in quarantine due to the plague?
So, what do we derive from these experiences? Well, culture is the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. Culture is also, the ideas, customs and social behavior of a people or society. Culture can also be the tissue cells, bacteria, etc. that survive in conditions suitable for growth. I’d personally regard it, a bit farfetched but absolutely perfect for stating an example on the importance of culture in context.
What does this mean for us? Back to the social media posts that have gone viral. They are, at the moment, mostly from Italy and show people playing music, singing from their balconies, dancing and enjoying themselves in the midst of quarantine and measures in-line with social distancing.
Closer to home for me, a social media initiative in Sweden encourages people in the country to go outside their home and clap their hands to show appreciation of all the people working in healthcare that are fighting COVID-19. The campaign started on 15 March and it’s called, Vi applåderar vårdpersonalen, or we applaud health care professionals, and goes by the hashtag #viapplåderarvårdpersonalen. According to the Facebook event, it will continue until 29 March. So, every day until 29 March at 8 pm you will find me clapping away on my porch!
Culture leads to growth
As you all can tell, culture happens to be one of my favorite words, along with the Italian word for curiosity, curiosità, and ahai, the Meänkieli-word for hug. Culture has, of course, many different meanings in different contexts but it also tells us about what it is like being human; it tells us about patterns and relations. The-making-the-best-of-it-culture growing right now, expresses and creates a sense of belonging and reminds us that in pandemics or in war, our music, art and stories will continue to enrich life, by and for us simply because life is, and so is democracy. Together, we create and re-create culture, our societies and the future. Together, as a society, we will survive this pandemic. Hence, I’d argue that in any context, culture leads to growth. Beat that, coronavirus!
Linnea Huhta is a millennial and DP graduate of Björknäsgymnasiet in 2009. She is a polyglot, author and also serves as the administrative director and head of unit for the municipality of Pajala, Sweden. She is, slowly but surely, working towards a Master of Law & Society at Umeå University. Other than that, she contributes to the development on revitalizing the minority language of Meänkieli in the Swedish, Finnish and Meänkieli-speaking region of Tornedalen, a cultural territory along the Torne River that includes both Swedish and Finnish municipalities. You might hear her voice on the air as host of a podcast soon available at urplay.se or reciting poetry through her business, “Words by Huhta.” You can learn more about Linnea here. Don´t hesitate to make contact; ideas are meant to be shared people!