Today is yet another Monday in the pandemic — my 12th, to be exact. And just like that, I am on day No. 80 of self-quarantine. It feels as if life has always been this way. Today starts like so many of the others: Wake up. Go for a walk. On the way back, see people jogging or biking along The Embarcadero. No one is wearing masks — willfully ignoring the physics of how the virus has already killed nearly one hundred thousand Americans and many more around the world.
When I started this quarantine, the weather was not as lovely. Colder than usual, gray skies with occasional fog — it was as if the weather was reflecting our collective moodiness. These days, the sun rises early and shines brighter for most of the day. It is warmer, and it feels like May in San Francisco. The silence of the lockdown is slowly becoming a distant memory. Overhead, trucks and other vehicles are rumbling across the Bay Bridge. More cars are rushing along the roads, speeding faster, as if they could outpace the virus. You can anticipate the legions that soon, though not quite yet, are likely to rebel against the shelter-in-place orders in the San Francisco Bay Area.
On Twitter, like elsewhere in the media, things are back to normal. The divisiveness, the finger-pointing, the takedowns, the lack of empathy. Most notably, the cult of “me” is back in season. In lieu of solving the problems, we have gone back to being the problem. I am back to limiting my Twitter use to 15 minutes a day — just as I did before the pandemic started to ravage the body of our planet.
Post-pandemic, in the short-run, and contrary to many, we think very little changes, at least very little that is materially different from what we thought before. Rather than being a break with the past, we think people’s desperation for a return to normalcy—shopping! travel! work!—creates immense pressure to return to the recent past faster than anyone expects. There is inherent human-driven homeostasis, an almost inexorable need to bring things back to where they were before.Paul Kedrosky, Philosopher-Investor.
The silence of the planet cleaned the river that ran through Delhi, and the sea that surrounds Venice. For a brief while, the social web was full of kindness — a glimpse of people co-existing without filter bubbles. And then came the trolls, the bots, and the half-truths. 1
Deep down, I always knew that the break from our selfishness was temporary. In our post-algorithmic reality, it is every man for himself. In our world of retweets, likes, and online friends, life is performance art. The pandemic, it seems, was just another backdrop — like Iceland or some exotic restaurant. Reality is a bit distorted when our lives are dominated by the social web. It is whatever your self-created bubble tells you it is. Don’t like it? Create a new bubble.
The social costs of these lowest common denominator algorithms are only starting to show up in our real world. “Twitter is one of those products where I can see overuse making people have a long term, problem with the product emotionally,” said Scott Belsky, chief product officer of Adobe in the Stuck@Om podcast episode we recorded a few weeks ago. “And that’s being exacerbated in the day we’re living in now.” 2
Of course, 80 days later, my own life has changed — maybe for the better. I have learned that doing things in two-hour increments is way better than trying to get everything done in one go. I have two robot assistants now — iRobots, I mean. They clean and mop the floors. Once a week, every surface in every room is cleaning off any (including imaginary) dust. Doing dishes by hand before going to bed is better than waiting to do a full load in the dishwasher. Sunday is the day for laundry and ironing. (Pro tip: Wash your socks separately from the regular laundry load, and turn them inside out. This way, you won’t lose any socks, and they will last longer.)
My daily walks are a new habit that is going to go with me into the future. And the same goes for forced meditation breaks. Instead of the ambitious and often ambiguous idea of productivity, I have embraced efficiency — especially when it comes to my work. If you don’t use the social web as much, and you don’t read pointless publications, you have a lot of time to get your work done in eight hours and spend the rest of your time learning. This is ideally done through reading. You get a lot more accomplished using remote work tools — video and voice — and don’t have to spend 60 minutes on a meeting that can be wrapped up in 45 minutes. Life is too precious for preambles. And not everything is a zoom.
More importantly, the 80-day quarantine has made me ask the two questions that I should have been asking all along: What do I value? And what is worth my time? Those two questions are intertwined.
Yet Covid-19 has taught us the value of something we never noticed before. There isn’t only a value to freedom of time. There is also immense value to freedom of place. Perhaps the flexible-working bug won’t go away any time soon.Rory Sutherland, Ogilvy UK in The Spectator
Today feels like just another Monday, the start of yet another long week. I don’t remember what it was like before the quarantine. Strange — this all feels very normal now.
May 18, 2020. San Francisco