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The virus attacked our bodies. Now it’s rewiring our minds

A Deliveroo courier rides along London's empty Regent Street during the Covid-19 lockdown - Credit: Photo by Pietro Recchia/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

It will take decades for us to understand what has happened during this pandemic. What has happened to our brains and our minds.

Just as we can now see that the Roaring Twenties were partly created out of the so-called Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919, our own Roaring Twenties will take us years to comprehend.

But there may be some early signs of understanding what has happened, is happening to us, through a look at three phenomena: Deliveroo Nation, Peleton World and Netflix MInd.

Living in the West End of London, I am surrounded by restaurants, clubs and pubs. I like this because I am a metropolitan: the crowds, the noise, the dirt, the danger, the anonymity – they all appeal to me.

For me, the idea of terror is a weekend in the country: a place of silence and natural sounds; people who look at you; who may know your business. I love Midsomer Murders, for example, because I imagine the English countryside to be full of hidden mayhem, in some “unpronounceable village” as a character in Poirot once told him.

When the pandemic struck, my part of the world became a ghost town; businesses gone; no one on the public highway; and Oxford Street as empty as some street in a John Ford western before the showdown takes place. Tumbleweed.

Filling that void has been a small nation of mostly men; all from other countries; all Deliveroo drivers. 

The nicest thing about millennials is that they actually live in one nation: the Nation Of Devices. No matter what language they speak, they all have phones to their faces perpetually; talking to other countries; talking to each other, even as they speed down streets the wrong way to deliver nurture to various people.

I mean nurture because most of the food is of the fried variety and can therefore be called “comfort food” and I wonder who all of those people are who are living like that.

As I trudge out to get my same old menu of organic stuff, another nurturing thing, I suppose, Deliveroo Nation brings chicken and fries to the world beyond. Sometimes I can hear the guys talking to one another in their mother tongues; playing their music; sometimes getting into arguments.

They cluster, too, in silence and, being a playwright, they are a kind of muse to me. I wonder what they are thinking as they look at the empty shops in this big city. Is this what they came for; why they are so far away from home?

Now the lockdown is over and people are back in the pubs and restaurants around here, maskless for the most part, laughing and talking in one another’s faces as if nothing had ever happened at all, Deliveroo Nation is still there. As if they know that they will be needed again.

You have to have been dead not to notice Peleton on our screens.

The exercise bike company is everywhere. I had even thought of buying one but, in the tiny place where I live, it probably would take up every inch, then end up going through the floor.

However, I am glad that I have resisted because I have friends who are part of the universe of Peleton, and it is a mad world indeed.

First of all, you do not have to buy the bike, but if you do not, you miss out on the inner world of your instructor. From what I understand, the instructor makes a universe in order to distract the participant from the rigour of intense spinning. 

Of course, as you exercise, endorphins are released, and also, what happens with every trainer, you bond. You care. While you’re panting and puffing, you enter their world.

One friend has an instructor who curates her mind. They offer analysis of the Oprah and Harry thing, or talk about how the guy on Bridgerton got that body. Other topics include “Britney Spears: we’re for her”; “The Crown: what’s up with that?” and “is Piers Morgan unwell?”

The nature of our conversations now depend on what platform they take place on: Instagram World is rather benign, warm, open. TikTok World reduces the thing to memes, and Twitter World is political and judgemental and cruel.

In Peleton World, depending on what the Instructor is feeling, you can be transported to other realms, some of a comforting level of triviality as you raise the bar on the bike. And if you don’t have a Peleton bike, you miss out on the little signals; the inner conversation that goes on amongst the people who do. 

Stuff can stay in your mind all day because it is mixed in with what you did, what your body did and, I suppose, in the middle of the day you may find yourself suddenly asking, “Why did Harry announce that he had to pee while on that bus with James Corden?” This can be a Peleton Conversation, a Peleton Brain preoccupation.

I guess that this can mean that while your body gets fit, your brain does not.  Plus you can get an instructor called Cody.

I have, so far, avoided streaming because I think that I am prone to binge-watching and therefore could become a victim of Netflix Mind. I know that I am susceptible to this because I can watch the same scene in the same movie over and over and over. 

Especially classic films. I can recite every line of The Godfather parts one and two so, to have access to a service that allows me to look at a series all at once could be a Bad Thing.

I have friends who end the day binge-watching. Into the night. There are studies published that indicate binge-watching may result in a diminution of verbal memory and other signs of cognitive decline. We encourage this by watching on our phones, tablets, laptops, all day long.

I suppose that the advent of television back in the day also created Cassandraesque warnings of doom but, being locked inside; sometimes isolated from other people; with just a streaming service as your window to the world, might be something entirely new.

So streaming is the aspect of Lockdown Brain that really scares me because I know how I am.

And out of all the effects of Long Covid, that condition used to refer to those victims who suffer symptoms long after they have survived the infection, Streaming Brain may be the most dangerous.

It can take us away from engagement as we hole up inside of ourselves; waiting for the next catastrophe to strike.

What do you think? Have your say on this and more by emailing

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