The sadness I feel about COVID-19

The unfortunate thing I feel about COVID-19 is how sad I feel for all the silver linings.

I’ve been able to attend more events with more people virtually than I have in-person. I’ve saved money on food. Not traveling to offices has saved me hours of time. Everything is more scheduled and regimented, meaning I get more focused time on specific projects. And social media is far less performative. I like those things. Many of these things are things we could have been doing all along. But I’m most saddened by the fact it took a global pandemic scare to get us here where millions of people have lost so much.

I don’t feel bad about having to do more virtually. It’s been good for me that I can take part in more events now that I can meet the same people online instead of off. I was never going to travel an hour this way or that, or book a flight and a hotel to attend your conference. But, now that it’s online, I can. And so can many other people. We always could have been doing that, and probably should have been. The lacking factor for many events is the experience and there’s value in that. But that value comes with a price tag.

Many people are saving money and perhaps their health because they’re not eating out for lunch every day. Again, that’s grim for restaurants and eateries, but no one can dispute it’s better to eat at home. It’s almost always cheaper, and it’s usually healthier. It’s hard to come up with something at home worse for you than McDonald’s or other fast food. And when your colleagues pressure you to go out, you go out. And it’s nearly impossible to find healthy places when you do. Do a search for “Healthy” on GrubHub and you get about 4 or 5 restaurants, one of which is probably Subway.

Office space is likely to see a lot of shifts after this is over. A lot of places are likely to stay on work-from-home protocols and reduce their office space. For many places that can’t do work from home, they’re likely to expand their office space in order to maintain more distance. That’s probably a net neutral, but it’s not bad if people have more options or reduce commuting by car.

Perhaps the biggest change is the ability to have more focus. Offices are not known for their productivity gains. Everyone’s best work comes from reducing distractions and implementing an optimal workspace. That might be using headphones, or it might be a speaker. It might be a podcast or classical music or something else. That might mean starting a little later or working a little earlier. It might be the comfort of knowing your kids are just downstairs, or the dog is happy and not in a crate or alone all day.

The equalization of networking and meetings is a big win for a lot of people. If you live on one side of town and have to travel to the other, you may have two hours of your day wrapped up in a car just moving around for what amounts to just hearing someone talk. That’s a huge savings for the people who can do so.

And one thing I’m not sad about at all: social media has become much less performative. I’d be interested if academic researchers are studying the mental health effects of social media right now. When you see all your friends living their “best lives” on the beach, with friends, out at pricey concerts and shows, you feel glum. We know this. Social media straight up increases depression almost universally. But now, no one can travel or fake it. All of the superficial detritus has been removed — no fashion, makeup, glitzy travel, FOMO, or the recognition someone you wanted to talk to is now out with a bunch of other people. I don’t know if the depression that comes from social media is shifting to just being depressed about the news and state of affairs of the world. Like office space, I suspect it’ll be a net-neutral effect.

These things are generally good. Sadly, it’s at the expense of so much in people’s livelihoods. And there’s a lot of variation here. Having the kids around all day can be a huge energy suck. But if you asked more people at the end of their lives if they would have wanted to spend more time with their kids, I suspect the answer would be yes.

That should be the quandary people who are largely unaffected beyond more time at home should feel. A lot of small things are legitimately better for a lot of people. And that’s sad.

The president will lead us back from the brink

Pennsylvania Avenue is now quiet. The swans drift along without interest in the canal. Sitting in the White House at 73 years old, the President is responsible for keeping Americans alive. He will come on television and radio soon and make a series of announcements. Summoned by destiny and fate, he will prepare the nation for sacrifice.

To reduce the amount of people walking around at night, all street lights will go dark nationwide. Mailboxes will be coated with special paint so if the virus is nearby it will change color. You must keep calm and do not carry on.

Rapid construction of trench graves have been ordered to bury the dead. The ideal depth is 8 feet.

Sentries and guards will be placed around key cities and industrial areas as the manufacture of new equipment and supplies must be prioritized if our nation is to have a chance at survival.

Watchers will be tasked with identifying potentially compromised individuals. Anyone suspected of being compromised will be detained.

Masks will be issued to everyone. You should sleep with it nearby and carry it on you at all times.

In the event you are traveling and suspicious individuals come near you or you see the light signals overhead, immediately disassemble your bicycle. If you are driving, remove the spark plugs and carburetor. If you do not know how to do this, go to your nearest garage and learn how.

Shelter your house by placing cardboard over the windows or use blackout curtains. Use paint and other supplies to seal every possible crack around doors and windows.

Volunteers of women and able-body children and seniors are needed to move much-needed supplies into transport across the nation. Contact your nearest police, fire, or health department for information on where to proceed.

Children will be placed on trains and sent away from the cities and into the countryside. Your local train station will have details starting tomorrow.

The above account, with a few changes by me for our current medical crisis, is what Winston Churchill did to prepare Britons for the inevitable air bombardment of the island.

It’s remarkable how similar our current situation is to May 1940. Instead of gas masks we need face masks. Instead of painting mailboxes to change color in the event of gassing, we need flu tests. Instead of sentries looking for paratroopers and bombers, we need people looking for the sick.

Within hours of becoming Prime Minister, Winston Churchill had established most of his government. Within days he had prepared the nation with what German propaganda minister Joseph Goebels called, “Perhaps the best messaging of the war.”

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” said Churchill.

It was a sentiment that dated fifty years earlier to Theodore Roosevelt, whom Churchill admired:

“Every man among us is more fit to meet the duties and responsibilities of citizenship because of the perils over which, in the past, the nation has triumphed; because of the blood and sweat and tears, the labor and the anguish, through which, in the days that have gone, our forefathers moved on to triumph.“

Donald Trump is no Churchill, and he sure as hell is no Theodore Roosevelt.

In London, people tripped over sandbags and curbs as the city went dark at night to prevent pilots from identifying the layout of the city.

People carried masks with them, issued by the government, wherever they went. In the countryside, farmers and residents left heavy equipment scattered through their fields to deter gliders and enemy aircraft landings. Everyone knew their duty.

As the nation and world swings violently economically and pushes ahead confusingly and without direction or leadership right now, it’s nice to think about what could have been with the right leadership.

With leadership that treated Americans as patriots, intelligent, and with as much to lose as we stand to gain. Ironically, America wasn’t much of a world leader then, either.

Real leadership in turbulent times means preparing your citizens for what is likely to happen. It means devoting all of your attention to the problem at hand. While you maintain the big picture strategy in your head, you give clear instructions to the nation about what is expected, and what is expected of each person.

We’ve not had that. Governors and sometimes mayors have tried to step in to fill the gap, but this is what Americans elect Presidents to do. Nixon remarked that “most of the job is just foreign policy”. The domestic stuff only came to pass in emergencies.

The British were prepared for the Germans. They knew what was coming and they made sure the public knew it, too. But they weren’t always right.

Churchill and Neville Chamberlain before him had developed strategies that relied on the French. Britain could defend herself only if the Germans had to continually fly from and back to bases all the way in Germany. The French, with their well-trained and well-armed army were there firewall. It was unthinkable to them that they could fall so fast, or at all.

We’re in the same situation with COVID-19. It’s unthinkable to us that we might fall so fast, or at all. But we can’t rely on the imagined firewall of our doctors or healthcare sector. There is no Maginot line for viruses.

Americans need to be told the reality of the situation and prepared for war. Treated with respect and recognition for the labor we have done and have yet to give in debt, time, energy, and tears.