Life In A Global Pandemic, Part 8

Over the past weeks, a lot of the early information about covid-19 has unraveled.

The overwhelming majority of deaths have occurred among old people with preexisting conditions. Predictably, the rest of the people in American society have started to wonder whether it's fair to shut down the economy and disemploy millions in order to save people whose life expectancy was already quite short, even before the pandemic hit. I say this now without judgment: This sort of resentment was inevitable from the beginning, and the truth of the matter is that the economy will have to start cranking again, no matter what any of us personally believe about the ethics of the matter. Human life did not grind to a halt during the Spanish Flu pandemic or the days of the Black Plague. Life can, will, and must carry on; the sick will be left behind. This is as true anything about human beings can be. Carrying on despite what might befall the unfortunate ones is what we do.

The integrity of the epidemiological models that shaped public policy has also started to unravel. The dangers of covid-19 may have been over-hyped, at least in a manner of speaking. This is a difficult matter for a person to wrap his head around. On the one hand, covid-19 has caused an undeniable spike in human mortality. People are dying out there, and in greater numbers than comparable recent years. At the same time, the virus is far more widespread than anyone realized -- a fact that sounds bad until we realize that is proves that perhaps a majority of infected people show no symptoms, that a definite majority do not require hospitalization, that a decided majority will survive covid-19, and that the strain on the health care system was largely over-estimated. Deadly as the disease may be, it's not nearly as deadly as feared.

And so, as Texas will do tomorrow, the American economic system will soon reopen and life will return to something approximating normalcy.

Excepting, of course, the fact that life will never go back to normal again. The way we have pursued entertainment during the pandemic proves this.

As I expected -- but probably neglected to write down -- people are not as interested in being active outdoors as their initial response to the quarantines might have lead us to believe. At first, people were working from home and taking every opportunity to get outside for periodic walks, runs, and bicycle rides. From my observation, that has trickled to a halt. Once again, there are cars on the road and heavy traffic everywhere. The air is thick with exhaust again. It's hard for me to cross the road on foot, because the vehicles on the road have returned, and are just as aggressive as ever. The charms of walking down the local footpaths and listening to the birdsongs and the croaking frogs has expired. I haven't seen an egret in weeks.

But none of that means that people are trying to get back to normal. What we've discovered under quarantine is the wealth of entertainment available to us from the comfort of our own homes. Of course, most of us have access to streaming video services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and so on. Now major Hollywood film studios have announced that they will continue to release movies straight-to-streaming even after the lockdown ends. And why not? Our home "theaters" are wonderful: comfortable seats, ample snacks, and alcohol, no fighting for parking spaces or trying to get early tickets, no second choices... Video entertainment has never been better.

Add to that the fact that video gaming is the best it's ever been, and we get to play them essentially in the same gorgeous theaters in which we watch our blockbuster films. The kids can even engage in social media as they play video games, with services like Twitch becoming major forces in how people connect with each other.

Music, too, is readily available at home. We can stream any song we want to hear now, thanks to the likes of Spotify and Amazon Music. The sound quality is as good as it's ever been. But that's not all; major music acts have put on free concerts from their own homes. Some of them do it every week. For musicians who already have a following, it's doubtful that the quarantine will erode their fanbase. It's very good to be a music fan these days.

And then we have the services, all the glorious services. Peloton, Zwift, Strava, Beachbody On Demand, and the likes are booming as people confined to their homes have realized that they don't actually need a gym subscription after all. We thought we would miss our favorite restaurants, but they all deliver now. Alcohol, too, can be delivered, and the cost is not actually as high as anyone expected. Yesterday, I saw an advertisement for a free 5-day guitar home instruction course, in which none other than Paul Gilbert himself teaches you how to play a classic Racer X song. For free! (Yes, I did sign up, and if the first lesson is anything to go by, this will be nothing short of remarkable!) Every conceivable kind of music-production software is on sale for pennies on the dollar of what you'd otherwise have to pay.

The toys now available to us, which we are all now inspired to avail ourselves of, are absolutely dazzling. It is absolutely inconceivable that we will experience such wealth of leisure and then go back to a world of public theaters, gymnasiums, overpriced restaurants, and boring old guitar lessons from the pimply kid at Guitar Center.

Thus, even as we discover that we in less danger from covid-19 than we feared, we are also discovering that we are less reliant on public spaces than we ever imagined. I expect that American life will transition away from densely packed public spaces like New York City public transportation, toward the spacious, comfortable, rural environments of the Midwest. If the prospect of doing yard work doesn't appeal to you, you can always pay to have it done.

This suggests, too, that some of the most valuable work in the coming years will not be the paper-pushing office busy work that so many of us do. Instead, it will be the service-level work that keeps our lives so comfortable: groundskeeping, deliveries and logistics, cloud computing and streaming, artificial intelligence, task automation, and so on.

They always said that necessity is the mother of invention, and brother, I believe it!

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