(No, not the bad software architecture; real wet ones)
When my state of Massachusetts locked down for Covid in March, we unconsciously assumed that the epidemic would be over when the lockdown ended. Hopelessly naïve, I now realize, but we couldn’t get our brains around the reality then. It is now obvious that we’re in a marathon, not the sprint we initially perceived.
In my May column, I discussed the thought that the epidemic and its consequent quarantine, while awful in many respects, had nevertheless led to certain improvements in our lives. I now want to continue that discussion.
Years ago, I went on a hiking trip with my then-girlfriend, now-wife. We enjoyed beautiful fall New England weather on Saturday, but rain started Saturday night and continued into Sunday morning. Many of the hikers said, “Heck with this, I’m headed back to Boston.” But the leader, a guy named Gene, said, “Wrong answer. Let’s go out and look at waterfalls. They’ll be at their absolute best right now. I know a couple of great ones nearby.” And so indeed we did, and so indeed they were.
I’m thinking of Gene’s example right now, looking for things that are better now than they were pre-Covid. They’re a little hard to find, no question. And in no way am I saying that Covid is a net positive for the world. But we’re stuck with the bad stuff, so let’s look for what good stuff there is. Because it does indisputably exist. Here are my examples. Please post yours in the comment section.
Telemedicine visits continue to please me. I just had another one, for vertigo caused by a new set of progressive lenses. I didn’t have to drive an hour each way, deal with traffic, sit in a waiting room full of sick people. The nurse practitioner was attentive, and undistracted. Yes, there were things she couldn’t do, but none of them were key. It won’t replace every visit, but I can easily see it replacing perhaps half of them.
Reconnecting with old friends via Zoom is great. An old friend who lives in Brooklyn. My cousin, currently on England’s Isle of Wight. My geek friends throughout the world, like you, dear reader. Of course I’d rather be doing it live, but virtually means that it gets done, instead of not. I’m going to keep this one going after Covid as well. Ping me for a virtual coffee if you’d like.
I wrote in my January column about borrowing e-books online from my public library. Pretty much everything published in the last decade or so is available this way. But so many masterworks were published before e-books existed – like Why Software Sucks. Almost all of Harvard’s library collection has been scanned to enable online searching, allowing you to find paper books to borrow. But because of this emergency, Harvard now provides online access to the full text of almost everything. It’s really, really useful. I’m betting that when the time comes to take it away, the parties involved say, hey, look, here’s some money and let’s keep it. Sort of like Spotify. That would be a big step forward.
My daughter Annabelle, now a rising sophomore at the Olin College of Engineering, reports similar gains. The restrictions on her locked-down campus are so stringent that few students are living there. Annabelle has rented (through AirBnB) a farmhouse in Vermont with some of her classmates, to hunker down in their own bubble. She’d always wanted to try off-campus living, and this is her chance. Remote access also allows her to take an elective course at another college, which would have been logistically infeasible otherwise. She just completed a highly successful summer internship doing UX at OnShape, in which she worked completely from home. She wasn’t all that happy to stay in the house all day with her cranky old fart parents (and annoying younger sister, before that worthy got a job working with special needs kids at the YMCA) , but the 3-hour daily commute to Boston’s Seaport wouldn’t have been great either. It worked out well for her.
Tell me about yours, my friends. What’s better now for you? And how will we continue those good things, when we’ve licked this damn virus? Because we will. By this time next year, I’ll bet you.
Let me leave you with one of the most inspiring songs ever: Dame Vera Lynn, singing “There’ll Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs of Dover.” (Never mind that bluebirds don’t live in England; that’s poetic license for you.) She released that song in the dark days of 1942, with the outcome of World War II still in doubt. See, times have been worse, within living memory, and we’ve come through. She died just a few months ago, June 18, 2020, at age 103. Not of Covid.