Toilet Paper and Facemasks, Icons of the Pandemic
In March of this year, in the week we discovered that the corona pandemic would not pass the Netherlands completely unnoticed, I saw someone walking with three mega packs of toilet paper. And moments later another person with the same commodities. And another one. It was a trend. And although there was still plenty of toilet paper in warehouses, the shelves in the supermarkets were mostly empty for a while.
I’ve heard many explanations for that sudden toilet paper hoarding. Maybe it was because people ran out of their supplies faster because they worked from home. Perhaps a shortage of toilet paper in the supermarket is simply more noticeable because packs with 24 toilet rolls take up more space than, for example, tuna cans. Perhaps the sudden focus on personal hygiene prompted people to collect everything related to it. Or maybe comedian Arjen Lubach had the right theory: most of us can’t imagine food shortages, but we’ve all run out of toilet paper at some point, so that’s what the hoarders focus on.
Anyway, the shortages of toilet paper did not appear to be an exclusively Dutch phenomenon. Facebook friends from far-flung places like Australia and the United States posted videos in which friendly nations organized toilet roll drops to ease the need. And other funny memes that we could use in those gloomy days.
It was only a matter of time before I came up with my own meme: a map of the world made of 1127 toilet rolls. Digital toilet rolls that is; I didn’t have to hoard toilet paper for it. This map is in no way responsible for the painful shortages.
After a relatively relaxed summer, now all of Europe is struggling with the second wave of covid-19. But there’s no run on toilet paper this time. Instead, this wave has its own icon: the face mask. They’ve been for sale in my American webshop for several months now.
In the Netherlands we started wearing masks a bit late, partly due to the discussion among scientists whether they work or not. As a cartographer I don’t want to say too much about that controversy. But I can’t really imagine that they don’t work at least a bit; after all, any little covid that sticks to a face mask does not end up in someone’s lungs.
But of course you have to use them in the right way. So don’t have your nose protruding above it, do not fiddle with it all the time, do not keep it in your pocket for days on end. And don’t put it down to exchange French kisses with beautiful strangers.
And one more thing: throw them in the trash can after use and not on the street. There is enough litter already. Many face masks can also simply be washed, by the way.
Of course, also the icon of this second wave found its way to a cartographic meme. But here too I would like to state that the 388 face masks that together form the world map below were digitally generated. Not a street has been polluted and not a mask has been wasted to produce the map.
I like to make triptychs, but in this case I hope it will be limited to two covid-related world maps. Nobody is looking forward to a third wave.