Being reduced to one more number, literally on our forehead

When we are out in public, we used to be seen and judged based on certain criteria – the way we behave, the way we talk or listen, the way we dress and so on. Post COVID-19—whenever that is—when we are out in public, we’d be subject to something we have no control over – our body temperature!

Sales of equipment to check our temperatures are soaring.

There’s already a tremendous effort in noting down and communicating our temperature, regardless of questionable efficacy around the practice.

Many food delivery companies have started noting down the temperatures of people who cook, pack or deliver your food.

Not content with noting them down once and communicating that to you, many have started showing them live on a map (for the delivery person, at least)!

Does the constant notification of temperature make you feel safe and more confident about ordering food? Just imagine – we were focused only on time earlier – time to accept order, time to pick it up from restaurant and time to deliver. Now, we focus on a completely new number, one that was used by us very occasionally. It’s an alien number as far as strangers are concerned, in the sense that we took that number seriously only when it happened to be our own temperature or that of those close to us. Now, we are suddenly showcased that number in case of delivery agents, packing and cooking personnel!

A temperature ‘gun’ has become a standard fixture already in many public places – airports, shops (that are open) and offices.

If we were merely seen and scoffed at for any aberration from the so-called ‘normal’, with any aberration in our body temperature, we’d be treated with alarm and urgency, throwing us into quarantine immediately.

If effect, we are being reduced to a number… another number after so many other numbers: phone number, social security/Aadhaar number, PAN, assorted ID/account numbers and so on. While the other numbers were some form of identity and are permanent, this new number keeps changing and any movement outside a range robs us of our agency immediately.

So, anticipating the increased use of such signaling using our temperature, it is essential we device non-numerical methods of using and communicating this necessity. We already have color-based ranges – yellow, orange and red as states of escalation. That’s a familiar template for many purposes and is already in use. Using such systems may, at the very least, reduce the demeaning association with a number and also make it more universally comprehensible (except for the color-blind, I agree) than the Centigrade vs. Fahrenheit measurements.

This is particularly useful when an individual’s temperature is being beamed to others (as in the case of delivery personnel’s temperature shown on a live map!) and not necessarily when one person is checking the temperature using an individual temperature gun (where the number is seen only by one person and not shared with others).

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