During last week’s episode of the Lounge Ruminator podcast, 17. Non-essential Formula, I spent some time discussing what it means to be ‘essential’ and indeed, ‘non-essential’. It is not only a shift in our vernacular to use these phrases, but also a shift in the way that we think about people’s value in society; this is likely to continue affecting our thoughts and behaviour in the future.
Once I had finished editing the episode, I thought that I would search for an appropriate photo to use as the featured image here on my site. In the end, I settled on the picture of a formula on a whiteboard that you see there now (through the link above), however that is not the first image that I found.
While visiting the stock-image site Pexels to find an image, I searched for the term ‘essential’ to see what would appear. I was most amused (and somewhat disturbed) by what was shown in the search results. View the results here or simply look at the interesting screenshot of the results below.
That’s right: almost all the results display toilet paper, apart from some occasional images of ‘essential’ oils (hmmm…) and clothes. The images don’t display anything that’s actually essential, such as water or anything to do with air, food, shelter or necessary jobs.
Now to be clear, I have no idea if toilet paper was a major feature in the search results for the word ‘essential’ prior to the whole COVID-19 crisis, however I think that it is safe to assume that this is a more recent development.
Reflecting on my episode from last week, I was obviously mistaken when I said that words such as ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ would make us reconsider how we value people across society. Instead, I should have done an episode entirely about toilet paper—as we can see from both Pexels and panic-buying on the news—that in the year 2020, toilet paper is all that people really deem to be essential.