Contemplate this roundtable video from a historical standpoint — say, a few decades from now. What will people see? They will immediately note the stunningly low technical quality and production values. It will be instantly recognizable, whether our future viewers lived through these times or not, as “one of those awful virtual meeting videos made during the COVID-19 crisis”. You know, the crisis in which several hundred thousand Americans needlessly died and millions were sickened because of the Trump administration’s incompetent, insane, sclerotic response. The crisis that Trump’s disastrous, humiliating, “what the hell was anyone thinking when they voted for this obvious lunatic?” presidency is now and forever will remain synonymous with. Like how when I say “Jimmy Carter”, people think “genial peanut farmer who was in over his head and allowed 52 Americans to be held hostage by Iran for over a year and oversaw an energy crisis that culminated in an automobile-dependent nation being unable to buy gasoline”. Or I say “Richard Nixon” and people think “shifty crook whose crippling paranoia drove him to send a squad of bumbling goons straight out of a Coen brothers casting call to burgle his political opposition’s headquarters and then oversaw a criminal attempt to cover it up, inexorably leading to his resigning from office in utter disgrace”. When you say “Trump” decades from now, after our current hot moment has turned igneous, we’ll think about shamefully blatant racism, we’ll think about jaw-droppingly transparent corruption, we’ll think about his stupid-looking hair and poorly-applied bronzer and the rapidly degenerating incoherence of his every utterance, but more than anything we will think about the COVID-19 crisis, and his heartbreakingly cruel, incomprehensibly stupid and irresponsible response to it. That’s Trump’s lines-around-the-block-for-gasoline, his Watergate, his Hoovervilles. But hundreds of thousands of Americans didn’t die waiting for gas in the ’70s, or because G. Gordon Liddy shouldn’t have been trusted to shoplift a pack of gum without getting caught. Just try to imagine how much worse the jaded eyes of history will view a self-inflected fiasco that resulted in so many American deaths that morgues were overrun in cities across the nation. It’s a presidential albatross without peer.
John Gruber goes off.
So Gruber’s normal beat is posting about Apple and its products, which is how this came up; the referenced “rountable” involved Tim Cook, hence making it fodder for Gruber’s blog. But the above? He added it later, in an addendum underneath an initial, relatively anodyne, comment. Gruber is well-known for being opinionated but not… like this. This is something different.
People are angry, and rightly so.
Places exist for purposes, and when those purposes emigrate to new locations they also bring along the specters of their former homes. The bathroom is a place to shower or to cast out human waste. Bring your phone in there, and it’s also an office where you can complete procurement requests in enterprise-resource-management software such as Workday, and a theater where you can watch The Crown on Netflix, and a classroom where you can practice Latvian on Duolingo, and a travel agency where you can book a flight on Delta. And your office isn’t just at home, either: It’s anywhere. At the gym, on the train platform, in the gastropub, behind the wheel.
It’s easy but disorienting, and it makes the home into a very strange space. Until the 20th century, one had to leave the house for almost anything: to work, to eat or shop, to entertain yourself, to see other people. For decades, a family might have a single radio, then a few radios and a single television set. The possibilities available outside the home were far greater than those within its walls. But now, it’s not merely possible to do almost anything from home—it’s also the easiest option. Our forebears’ problem has been inverted: Now home is a prison of convenience that we need special help to escape.
Ian Bogost is.
So I added this to my drafts folder months ago, which means it’s kind of surreal to encounter it again now, in late March, right after I’ve spent my first week in serious social distancing/work-from-home mode due to the coronavirus pandemic. And by the time this pops off my scheduled posts queue, sometime in July… where will we be? After spending weeks or months locked into our homes, relying on Xoom and Slack and Citrix and Deliveroo and Amazon? Will our enforced reliance on the non-place have changed our relationship to Outside? And if so, how?
See you in the future, I guess…
This virus is still out there. We respond to 911 calls for covid every day. I’ve been on the scene at more than 200 of these deaths — trying to revive people, consoling their families — but you can’t even be bothered to stay six feet apart and wear a mask, because why? You’re a tough guy? It makes you look weak? You’d rather ignore the whole thing and pretend you’re invincible?
Do you know how much EMTs make in New York City? We start at $35,000. We top out at $48,000 after five years. That’s nothing. That’s a middle finger. It’s about 40 percent less than fire, police and corrections — and those guys deserve what they get. But we have three times the call volume of fire. There are EMTs on my team who’ve been pulling double shifts in a pandemic and performing life support for 16 hours, and then they go home and they have to drive Uber to pay their rent. I’m more than 15 years on the job, and I still work two side gigs. One of my guys does part-time at a grocery store.
Heroes, right? The anger is blinding.
Anthony Almojera, EMT.
I was talking to people recently, about time in lockdown. Every day is Blursday, it is Day O’Clock or Night O’Clock, and it is always the fortyteenth of Maprilay.
And I just now realized a thing: we are all in neheh, more in neheh than usual.
In ancient Egyptian cosmology, there are two forms of time, which combine and spiral and produce our experience: djet, in which one thing happens after another, in linear sequence, in which things done are final and past and fixed; and neheh, the time of mythology, the space where gods and spirits live, where all stories are new, and repeated, and cyclical.
We are in the midst of a tremendous matter of djet: this plague, this lockdown, this event, this iswaswillbebecomes history, a major event, a transformational experience that divides the world before from the world after.But it is not yet after.
Kiya Nicoll on time.
Pretty much every conversation I’ve had recently is some variation on, “How is it June already? It was only just March!” April and May were lockdown months so April and May don’t exist and didn’t happen, even though logically they did and must have. But what even is time any more?
Incidentally, this phenomenon is totally explicable when you remember that our modern sense of time is a product of the demands capital places on labor (i.e. show up to work at x-o’clock, take lunch for n-minutes at half-past-y, go home at z). For white collar working-from-home workers—the people I’ve most often heard expressing distress over pandemic time-loss—when the office is virtual and your boss can no longer really know when, exactly, you’re working (or where you’re working from), so long as the work gets done… is it any wonder time no longer feels real?
Incidentally, I don’t actually think this “wyrdtime” (in Wyrdverse-speak) is a bad thing per se.1 There’s a craptonne of other shit going on at the moment that sucks—what with the whole “mass death from an un-treatable virus” thing, not to mention everything else—but the forced dissolution of corporate presenteeism isn’t part of it.
- Not to mention there are non-trivial swathes of the population who live in wyrdtime constantly, and for whom this is nothing new. My retired parents, for one. A lot of freelancers and people with self-directed creative careers, for another. The idle rich. The disenfranchised poor. People on vacation and students between terms. In other words, basically anyone not employed in some kind of structured capitalist enterprise and/or educational institution. [↩]
A celebrity has died. You think you saw him in a movie once.
A mayor smiles soothingly for the camera. “These are trying times,” he says. His lips move in his face and you cannot remember if lips have always looked like that.
You have a Zoom meeting with your manager at two. Don’t be late.
You have a Zoom meeting with your cousin at three. Don’t be late.
You have a Zoom meeting with your child’s teacher at four. Don’t be late.
The number on the map begins with 4.
elf on COVID-19 gothic.
Too real too soon read the whole thing (if you can).
To watch this pale, slim-suited dilettante breeze into the middle of a deadly crisis, dispensing business-school jargon to cloud the massive failure of his father-in-law’s administration, is to see the collapse of a whole approach to governing. It turns out that scientific experts and other civil servants are not traitorous members of a “deep state”—they’re essential workers, and marginalizing them in favor of ideologues and sycophants is a threat to the nation’s health. It turns out that “nimble” companies can’t prepare for a catastrophe or distribute lifesaving goods—only a competent federal government can do that. It turns out that everything has a cost, and years of attacking government, squeezing it dry and draining its morale, inflict a heavy cost that the public has to pay in lives. All the programs defunded, stockpiles depleted, and plans scrapped meant that we had become a second-rate nation. Then came the virus and this strange defeat.
George Packer on government.