If Wednesday was the day where the full magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis became clear to many Americans, Thursday was the day that the country seemed to enter shock. By now, a significant portion of the Silicon Valley workforce is working, or pretending to, from home, giving everyone near-unlimited time to refresh Twitter, Instagram, and other feeds for the very latest in what threatens to be a catastrophic few months.
The good news, if you squint, is that the country is finally implementing the social distancing measures that have been effective (to varying degrees) in China, South Korea, and Taiwan. The NHL suspended the season, Major League Baseball called off spring training, and Disneyland closed for the month. Schools everywhere are closing, some for the rest of the semester. With luck, that mass national cloistering in our respective homes may mitigate the Trump administration’s terrible mishandling of the crisis
The next several days are likely to be crucial
in slowing the virus’ spread and flattening the curve
of infection, reducing the burden on the nation’s healthcare system. But make no mistake: it’s spreading. On Thursday an Ohio health official estimated that 100,000 people in the state have been infected. I had dinner with a friend who has been studying the crisis for work this week and he told me that, in all likelihood, either he or I would come down with the coronavirus.
One question you could ask, if you were desperate to turn your attention away from the public health implications of the crisis, is how spending a month or two mostly indoors will affect American life — both in the moment and afterward. We are social creatures, and we’re about to be deprived of much of that socialization. Writing for Vox
, Ezra Klein predicts a coming loneliness epidemic
Just as the coronavirus fallout threatens to cause an economic recession
, it’s also going to cause what we might call a “social recession”: a collapse in social contact that is particularly hard on the populations most vulnerable to isolation and loneliness — older adults and people with disabilities or preexisting health conditions.
A tension in the coronavirus response is that it’s so difficult to get people to accept social distancing that few want to muddle the message with worries about social isolation. But if the ultimate concern is the health and well-being of the most vulnerable, then both dangers need to be addressed.
As Klein points out, we can ease some of this burden digitally, through phone calls and video conferences. Earlier this week, my friend Hunter Walk suggested the idea of hosting a public “work from home happy hour” on the video conference service Zoom. We tweeted out a link, and around 50 people showed up to banter with us and show off their pets and babies. We did it again the next day, and more than 75 people joined for an impromptu conversation with social network savant Eugene Wei and the New York Times’ Shira Ovide. Twitter’s vice president of product, Keith Coleman, and venture capitalist Alexia Bonatsos are on tonight at 5PM PT. On Monday we’ll be joined by The Information founder Jessica Lessin and New York Times legend Taylor Lorenz.
During its heyday, HQ Trivia trained its fans to spend 10 minutes with them every day at noon Pacific time. Between Zoom and Discord and all the other free live-streaming tools now available, this feels like the sort of time that a next-generation HQ might be born.
With schools, shops and restaurants closed in an attempt to limit Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak, the amount of data passing through Telecom Italia SpA
’s national network has surged by more than two-thirds in the past two weeks, the company said. […]
“We reported an increase of more than 70 percent of Internet traffic over our landline network, with a big contribution from online gaming such as Fortnite,” Telecom Italia Chief Executive Officer Luigi Gubitosi said Wednesday on a call with analysts.
And what of our social networks, which were born promising to make us feel more connected? Twitter may be anxiety-inducing, particularly if you stare at it for multiple hours per day the way I do, but in my opinion it has never felt more vital. It’s particularly good at focusing attention on big, urgent issues, and COVID-19 is as big as any issue to come along in the company’s lifetime. Yes, misinformation spreads there — I stupidly retweeted a satire site’s fake story saying hospital workers had rolled a volleyball into Tom Hanks’ room, meant as a joke about Wilson from Cast Away
— only to learn of my mistake later from BuzzFeed
. But for the most part, I find that it is serving up mostly high-quality journalism and important threads from public health workers and government officials. Wearying though the site can be, I can’t imagine trying to make my way through the crisis without it.
Facebook — my News Feed anyway — feels a little thin by comparison. Lots of pictures of, and commentary about, working from home. Lots of notices about schools being closed and events being canceled. Some memes. Twitter has the news, and Facebook has the fallout. It’s fine, but it hasn’t really made me feel connected to anything.
But it’s different for everyone. In Westchester County, NY, Lorenz reports, teenagers are getting their news from Instagram meme accounts
. The accounts I follow on Instagram — mostly friends I have met in person — appear to be ignoring the coronavirus almost entirely. This is not a criticism. People are going to need somewhere to go that is not the coronavirus, and virtual spaces will be all they have for a while.
Still, I continue to feel like every social product has a lot more that they can do here. Mitigating the spread of misinformation
, and taking steps to intervene directly in the crisis
, have been welcome moves. But the period of social isolation that is now crashing down on America will offer a new kind of test for our social networks. And to pass it, we’re all going to need to get creative.