Normcore is coming to you from a social distance
Wash your newsletters with soap for 20 seconds
Art: DIN, Vladimir Bonacic, 1969
Sorry if this is one of a million coronavirus newsletters you’re getting, but it’s hard to think about anything else given what we’ve seen unfold this week in the US.
Normally, I’d make light of the situation, but I genuinely believe America is in for a rough March and April, both with respect to the health impact of the coronavirus itself and its impact on the economy.
I’m very optimistically hoping we’ll be through to the other side by May. I went to the grocery store yesterday because we were legitimately out of milk, which was a bad move. There were seven lines, packed to the end of the aisles, of people waiting to check out. Some had gallons and gallons of water, some toilet paper, some, inexplicably, five bottles of Diet Coke and a pack of frozen spinach. Everyone was on edge and looking for any kind of guidance and leadership, from anywhere. This is, honestly, the most panicked I’ve seen America (and myself) since 9/11.
I think and hope, based on what I’ve read, that this whole thing will wind down in a month or so, or at least reach a less critical stage. But in the meantime, I’m in this weird mental space where I can’t think about anything but the current situation, the economy, and the long-term implications.
It’s become clear to me with what I’ve seen, with the Amazon formula situation, the misinformation, the enormous lines at grocery stores, Amazon.com running out of toilet paper, price gouging, people forgoing social distancing in favor of their own convenience and long accounts of people unable to get one of the few tests available, that America as a society, economy, and healthcare system, is not really set up to deal with anything of this magnitude.
One of the most telling signs was that the first official communication from any organization that I got about the coronavirus was an email from Target.
There are some very reasonable, normcore things you can read, including the CDC website (if it ever loads for you), or the WHO website, but I’m sorry to say this newsletter isn’t one of them for the moment.
However, there is one small, beautiful ray of hope that I’ve seen over the past couple days, and that’s been people collectively listening to live music online.
I didn’t manage to catch it, but last night, The Philadelphia Orchestra cancelled all of its remaining seasonal performances and instead played a concert to an empty auditorium that was broadcast live on Facebook.
The Seattle Symphony recently did the same, as well. And Chinese stations have been doing this all along.
This reminded me of something I’d read by Dina Rubina a while ago. Rubina is a famous writer in Russia and the Russian Jewish diaspora, particularly in America and Israel. She often writes among the themes of family, Russian history, Judaism, immigration, all that good stuff.
A few years back, she released a short story collection. I don’t even remember what this particular story was about, but it begins with her talking about her grandmother, who survived the Siege of Leningrad, arguably one of the worst parts of the worst of World War 2, which was already the worst of humanity. As the city completely shut down and supplies dwindled, people descended into complete savagery and deprivation in the face of starvation.
However, the one remaining sign of humanity that still stayed was the radio, and music more generally. (In fact, there is an incredible story about how the Leningrad Orchestra managed to play a piece even during the worst of the siege.)
The narrator in the Rubina story notes that her grandmother always had the radio on as a habit dating back to her days during the siege, because as long as the radio stayed on, it meant that life continued.
We are not in a siege, and we are not at war, but we are dealing with a lot of very serious, world-impacting stuff at once, so keep the radio on.
Listen to concerts. Talk to people on Twitter about stuff other than coronavirus. Read funny tweets. Write funny tweets. Do art.
Do what you can. Please wash your hands, don’t touch your face, talk to the people you love about cancelling big events.
I’ll catch you on the other side of this craziness, where, probably, it’ll turn out that some other company is adopting a streaming platform they have zero use for, SoftBank is taking on new investments, and one of the FAANG companies is once again making shady defense contract deals with the government.
When that happens, you know Normcore will be on it.
What I’m reading lately, interesting/funny tweets only edition:
This newsletter’s M.O. is takes on tech news that are rooted in humanism, nuance, context, rationality, and a little fun. It goes out once a week to free subscribers, and once more to paid subscribers. If you like it, forward it to friends and tell them to subscribe!
I’m a data scientist. Most of my free time is spent wrangling a preschooler and a baby, reading, and writing bad tweets. Find out more here or follow me on Twitter.