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COLUMN: Extolling the virtues of the virtual

While it’s tough to find an upside to COVID-19, some things are now more efficient

It’s hard for most of us to see any upsides to the current pandemic.

Loss of life, potentially serious lingering health issues and the mental and physical impacts of isolation cannot be lightly dismissed.

Many of us long for the opportunity to get out and socialize as we did before, to linger in restaurants and enjoy concerts, theatre and sporting events without having to master the intricate side-steps of the social-distancing quadrille, or being prepared to do battle over the simple courtesy of wearing a mask.

But responding to the threat of the virus has done some good.

It’s booted lethargic posteriors into alternative realms of creativity, inspiring projects that might have not existed, otherwise.

Most of us, in spite of our propensity for grousing, have received a crash course in connecting through technology.

We have also found that working from home can be practical and productive. Provided we can remember that any open screen in our living space is a potentially embarrassing live-broadcast situation, solutions imposed on us by the pandemic could actually reduce our dependence on commuting, staving off eventual doom through climate change.

Less significant, probably, but still a notable improvement, has been the arrival, during the current provincial election campaign, of the online, ‘virtual’ all-candidates meeting.

From the perspective of someone who has covered decades of local politics, it’s an innovation I’d like to see continue – long after the successive crises of 2020 are blotted from our collective memory.

As practised recently by the Surrey Board of Trade and the South Surrey White Rock Chamber of Commerce, these lean, mean, no-nonsense forums have emerged as a sort of electoral equivalent of “speed dating.”

Got something to say? Great – you have 60 seconds to deliver before you’re muted by the moderators.

Not finished making your point? Too bad. Next!

It’s amazing how much this cut-to-the-chase approach has sharpened the focus of the current crop of candidates.

Banished overnight is the folksy oratory of old-school politicians, which, in the hands of weak moderators, has seen two-hour meetings drag on to three or more – not counting the inevitable post-event glad-handing and brochure-pushing.

Gone, too, is grandstanding to a hooting, hollering gallery of partisans, and disingenuous “gaming” of the event by shouting over opponents, or pretending not to hear polite reminders that your time is up.

And pre-submitted questions from the public, vetted for clarity and relevance, have replaced lengthy rhetorical ramblings from the floor.

Some might complain that, like banning hockey brawls, this has taken all the fun out of game. What is left, they may ask?

Only the pressing issues, I’d suggest – and a healthy ability to stay on topic, not a bad thing for any candidate for public office in this day and age.

Alex Browne is a reporter with the Peace Arch News.

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