Covid-19 has been an impactful event for every single person on this planet, as we all had to watch the world fall into lock-down due to a dangerous virus. From one day to another, people were not allowed to see each other anymore — they had to stay inside their houses as much as possible, often isolated and alone for weeks or even months. All of a sudden, everyone’s life drastically changed. No hugs or handshakes were allowed anymore, everybody needed to keep a distance of at least 1,5 meters from each other and often people had to cover their faces with a mask wherever they went. As social beings, who have survived for centuries by working and living together, this came as a shock for many. To go from living collectively to living in isolation involuntarily had much impact on many people’s wellbeing and mental health. Many people became more self-aware of their lives and the fragility of it.
However, despite the many deprivations that people suffered from due to the pandemic, there was something given to them that many people had not experienced in a long time: they were given time. Time to reflect on what was happening in their world, time to maybe pick up old hobbies, time to stand still and take a breath instead of always being busy and on the run. Consequently, many people started to document their own auto-biographies, showing their own perspective of what was happening in their world.
“All of a sudden, everyone’s life drastically changed.”
Some decided to photograph the empty streets of their city, whereas others needed to write down their feelings in a journal. The lockdowns that people had to endure, thus, provided them with the time to reflect on what has been happening and, most importantly, to document this in their own ways.
Documenting throughout the Years
Many species are fully aware of the fact that time is passing. Even trees record the passing of each year through the growth rings inside the bark. But, out of all the living beings on earth it is only the human race, Homo sapiens, that is gifted with the properties to share knowledge of accounts, events or memories of the past by turning them into tales, stories or “histories” (Khan Academy, 2021). The first traces of the precursor of the official written language is called proto typing which dates back to 3400 years before Christ.
Through this specific form of communication people could draw symbols or paint in order to convey information about certain moments in time (Ardila, 2020). Throughout the years humans have found multiple ways to record, document or keep track of specific times, events or feelings in order to tell a story. As documenting was often a way to cope with certain cruelties and to not forget about the past in order to learn from cruelties like war, pandemics, natural disasters and uncertainties. Journals have been around for a long time, but one of the most known journals that represent the power of documenting in times of uncertainty is the diary of Anne Frank. Wherein she documented her life as a Jewish girl hiding from the Germans in the secret annex. It was through this diary that the cruelty of war and anxiety of people in hiding could not be forgotten (Anne Frank House, 2021).
Ever since cameras were invented they have been used to document (Mirzoeff, 2015). Photography is a powerful tool that can bring the pain of a specific situation towards people from all over the world. In the last 80 years several famous images have documented and informed people about certain happenings (Thornton, 2019). An example of the power of such an image can be found in the photo taken from Phan Thi Kim Phuc. Her name may not ring any bells, but with Napalm Girl this might change. The photo taken by Nick Ut is an award winning photo that represents a naked 9 year old Phuc running on a road after being severely burned by a napalm attack during the Vietnamese war in 1972 (Youn, 2015; Phuc, 2019). It is then again that because of a form of documentation, that the suffering of the Vietnamese victims is remembered. In the future, when hopefully the Covid-19 pandemic has passed, recordings of this period through the objects within this theme, could possibly serve a similar purpose in our society.
Documenting through Social Media
Due to the increasing digitalization of our current society, it is inevitable that within the theme of “Documenting the period” the role of social media is discussed. When documenting and recording life in the Covid-19 pandemic, many people shared their documentations online via social media. There are for example countless Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts that record this specific time in their own unique way. In order to give a first glimpse of social media pages that document the pandemic in creative and artistic ways, the images show the Instagram accounts of @Covidstreet and @Micheleborzoni.
There are various reasons that could explain the need to share these documentations of the pandemic online with others. Firstly, the want to share one’s experience could result from a want to be seen or heard as seen in the poll among master students at the bottom of the page. 11,1% of the students filled this out as a reason for documenting the pandemic. Secondly, the want to share our personal documentations of life in the pandemic is to create a sense of community. According to Al-Omoush et al. (2020) building a sense of community online has helped immensely in increasing “resilience and adapting to the unprecedented pressures, risks, and changes that Covid-19 brings” (p. 1). As most of the world was stuck in quarantine, social media presented itself as a perfect way to still create this sense of community. In the times of the pandemic, social media platforms have provided tools to communicate and subsequently create a sense of unity to a significantly large group of people. As a result of wanting to create a sense of community through social media, viral trends circulated on various social media platforms.
Instagram pages from @Covidstreet and @Micheleborzoni
A good example of this is the viral challenge where people danced to the song “Jerusalema” by Master KG featuring Nomcebo. People from all over the world danced the same dance to this song and shared it on their social media. The aim of the trend was to radiate a sense of unity and strength for the health care workers and everyone suffering because of the virus.
“The tools of social media are novel and offer the preferred platforms to communicate, collaborate, and convey a sense of unity to large audiences, especially in times of crisis.”Al-Omoush, K. S., Orero-Blat, M., & Ribeiro-Soriano, D. (2020)
Coping with the Situation
Documenting these peculiar times is also a way to cope with the situation itself. Interestingly, Torian (2020) explains that recording the situation through emotions and events that happened to us during the pandemic helps us keep control of what is happening to and around us. This includes, as Adelman (2021) mentions, both what has been lost and what has been found. Whether it entailed for example missing our grandma’s birthday celebration or our long planned trip overseas, Covid-19 postponed or canceled everyone’s plans. Documenting how missing such chances made people feel, as well as imagining what could have been without the current situation, helps when trying to cope with the situation the world is in. The same principle applies when documenting the new found activities during the pandemic. For example peoples’ new passion for painting or the 5pm walk to get outside of the house at least once a day. To record what people did and what people felt about these new activities actually helps when looking back and reflecting on them. These documentations could possibly also be helpful to look back on in the future, to see how certain situations were handled and to learn from aspects that were established during the pandemic.
Ultimately, on one hand documenting might help as an outlet to vent about the current state of the world. While on the other hand simultaneously providing some sort of comfort to have something to look back to, to feel that there are important things to look back on, created in a time where people were not able to do much.
Documenting – An Insight from the Authors
Throughout the process of realising the Covid-19 collection, an analysis has been done in order to obtain how the students of Media Studies: Digital Cultures documented their experiences during the pandemic. The following results show that students have used multiple objects to document their lives during the Covid-19 period.
Figure 1 shows that the phone was used the most to document or record people’s experiences. Interestingly, out of 27 students, two people have used a video camera. In our current society, many people often have access to a smartphone that has multiple affordances, such as high quality cameras to take photos and videos, voice recording apps and text editors (Barassi & Treré, 2012 ).
One could, therefore, expect that objects such as video cameras, photo cameras or analogue documentational tools would be excluded, simply as it would be “easier” to use a smartphone since they are user-friendly, easily accessible and multimodal. Nonetheless, several people still decided to use a video camera or analogue tools to capture their life, emotions or feelings.
Figure 2 shows the main goals of students’ documenting processes. It was expected that many people would document these times for personal purposes but, according to the bar chart, people also captured their lives during lockdown as a need to cope with the situation. The fact that 9 out of 27 people indicated that they documented for mental health reasons seems to indicate that documenting your life during uncertain times might have been important to cope with feelings of loneliness during quarantine.
Surprisingly, some people also indicated that their main goal for documentation was due to a desire to be seen and heard, which could perhap also be linked to a feeling of isolation as a result of the lock-down. As discussed before, social media, for example, proved to be a useful resource for people around the world to bring people virtually together during times of quarantine (Convery, 2020). Therefore, one can conclude that documenting the period in which we live could be a crucial way to process the current situation and to never forget about the challenges during those difficult times.
Objects Associated with this Theme
Explore the narratives hidden behind each object and gain a deeper understanding of how they can act as coping mechanisms.
Adelman, R. A. (2021, January 20). Archiving the pandemic: ‘Coronavirus Lost and Found’ documents how we cope with catastrophe. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/archiving-the-pandemic-coronavirus-lost-and-found-documents-how-we-cope-with-catastrophe-137685.
Al-Omoush, K. S., Orero-Blat, M., & Ribeiro-Soriano, D. (2020). The role of sense of community in harnessing the wisdom of crowds and creating collaborative knowledge during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Business Research. 1 – 10.
Anne Frank House. (2021). Who was Anne Frank? Retrieved from https://www.annefrank.org/en/anne-frank/who-was-anne-frank/.
Ardila, A. (2010). There is not any specific brain area for writing: From cave‐paintings to computers. International Journal of Psychology, 39(1), 61-67. https://doi-org.ezproxy.ub.unimaas.nl/10.1080/00207590344000295.
Barassi, V., & Treré, E. (2012). Does Web 3.0 come after Web 2.0? Deconstructing theoretical assumptions through practice. New Media & Society, 14(8), 1269–1285.
Confessions. Freesound. Retrieved from https://freesound.org/people/davejf/sounds/562290/.
Convery, S. (2020, March 18). Coronavirus collabs: the social media games entertaining the masses – and bringing us together. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/18/coronavirus-collabs-the-social-media-games-entertaining-the-masses-and-bringing-us-together.
Khan Academy. (2021). Recordkeeping and History. Retrieved from https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/big-history-project/agriculture-civilization/first-cities-appear/a/recordkeeping-and-history.
Mirzoeff, N. (2015, July 10). In 2014 we took 1tn photos: welcome to our new visual culture. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/10/2014-one-trillion-photos-welcome-new-visual-culture .
Phuc, P. (2017). Fire Road: The Napalm Girl’s Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness, and Peace. Tyndale Momentum.
Thornton, E. (2019, November 28). The art of documenting war and conflict. TU Dublin. Retrieved from https://www.rte.ie/brainstorm/2019/0129/1026165-the-art-of-documenting-war-and-conflict/.
Torian, S. (2020, March 14). Documenting a pandemic. Retrieved from https://storianblog.wordpress.com/2020/03/14/documenting-a-pandemic/.
Youn, S. (2015, April 30). 40 years since Saigon’s fall, napalm attack haunts woman in iconic image. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/30/40-years-since-saigons-fall-napalm-attack-haunts-woman-in-iconic-image.