For months now, I’ve had trouble with the O key on my laptop. It’s been happening for so long that I genuinely don’t remember when it first started, but I remember being concerned about going to Brazil with it acting up, which means that we’re talking about November last year at least, if not even earlier. That’s a long time.
The problem is, simply, that the key likes to… well, pop off. It’ll just detach from the keyboard at inopportune times, whether or not I’m actually touching it or not. Pop! It’s gone. Well, that was the first problem, at least; it happened and I googled and got this quick fix and reattached it, and that would happen a few times a week. It was frustrating, sure, but it was fine, really.
Less fine was the second, related, problem. After the key had been popping off for awhile, it stopped working sometimes. Not always, and not often, but every now and then, I’d hit it and… nothing. Well, not nothing nothing; sometimes the key would lift off when I lifted my finger, as if my hands were covered in glue — that was fun — but, despite that, there would be no “o” on the screen.
During all of this, I’d think to myself, I should put the laptop in to get fixed, this can’t go on, and then I’d think to myself, But I need my laptop to work, eh, I’ll do it later. Weekends would roll around and I’d think of it and remember I have the podcast to record, and when I didn’t, I’d simply get distracted, so it stayed like this for months. I didn’t mean for that to be true, but it was, alas.
Cut to two weeks ago, and I’m working at 5am because deadlines, typing away in bed and feeling very determined to just do the job and get it done, and the O key just… stops working entirely. Entirely. I hit it repeatedly, I let the key come off and reattach it, and it just doesn’t work. It’s at that point, at 5 in the morning with a deadline due, that I realize just how often the letter O appears (Spoiler: a lot), and that things can’t go on like this.
Within ten minutes, I’d jury-rigged a workaround and have spent the last week or so working with that and thinking, Maybe I don’t need to get it fixed, after all, because the shutdown of everything makes it hard to get it repaired, sure, but also because I am, at heart, very stupid.
It feels entirely unworthy, I feel, to characterize this moment we’re all in as “weird,” but that’s what I’ve found myself doing repeatedly, in multiple conversations with multiple people this week.
The context of the usage is, perhaps, instructive, though; I’ve used it in many cases as a response to people apologizing for not doing something, or really, not being able to do something, because they’re so emotionally overloaded and overwhelmed. “Look, I get it, everything’s weird right now, it’s okay,” I’d say, and they’d agree, and we’d take a second to silently think about just how weird everything actually is right now, how the world as we know it is, if not over, then certainly gone for now.
There are so many things that are weird. How quiet the streets are, for one thing. The complete lack of foot traffic outside the house that isn’t people walking their dogs is something that’s been causing me no end of low level anxiety all week, but that’s nothing compared with the one trip to the store I made midweek, where there was no-one around me and the restaurants had signs saying take-out only and the bars were closed. It felt unreal, unreasonable; there are usually so many people we have to step around each other carefully. Now this.
Or the mental pressure of it all — something that felt as if I was imagining it, until I saw a Twitter thread from a psychologist that suggested that we’re all in mourning and not accepting or even processing it, because we don’t think that the death of our lives as-was is actually a real thing. But that idea explains why my concentration has been poor, why I feel so tired, where my energy has gone. (Is it true? Is it a theory that holds water? I have no idea, but it feels true.)
The strangest, most unsettling thing of all is something so small, but something that very much messed with me until I realized what had happened. We live a block from a school, and that school’s bell is automated. It rings every day, even holidays, at 8:30, 8:40, 8:45, lunchtime, end of lunch, and then 3pm. Except, for three days this week, it didn’t, for whatever reason — maybe they were sanitizing the school and switched it off? The lack of that background noise, more than anything else, was a sign that things were weird.
Pavlov would be proud.
One of those newsletter graphics entries where I’m not entirely sure how many of these were actually used — there’s generally some wastage, but I feel like in the last month or so, there’s been a bunch that disappeared before the newsletter has gone out, for any number of reasons. So, here are some debuts, I guess…?
And then, I got sick of the internet.
Being online is an important part of my job, and I mean that in a bigger way than simply Oh, I telecommute and work for publishers based in California even though I’m based in Portland. Literally, a significant part of my job requires me to be online a lot, because the internet — and specifically social media — is where I get a bunch of stories. I have a weekly column for Wired that is explicitly based on things that people are talking about on social media! It’s a place I spend a lot of time.
And, until recently, I’ve been okay with that. More than okay; I enjoyed the back and forth, the constant conversation and discussion and rhythm of the way social media worked, and the strange tense humor that fueled it. I could recognize patterns, and also loved the places where those patterns broke down and something new and unexpected happened, instead. It wasn’t just that I liked the internet, it was that I felt I spoke it’s language and understood it; it felt like my place, for better or worse.
And then it didn’t.
I couldn’t tell you when things changed, only when I realized. It was about three weeks ago and, in the internet’s defense, I was hardly at my best then either; I was recovering from being sick, and feeling pressured to catch up with everything as a result, and feeling quietly surly and stressed as a result. But if that was my mood, it was nothing compared to the internet.
It was the week when Super Tuesday was happening, which was also the week when the US was starting to realize how serious this whole coronavirus thing really was, and I was paying far too much attention to both because, in addition to being interested, it was also literally my job; I knew I’d be writing about both for Wired that week. And I hated it.
All I could see was people being angry at each other and picking fights, making overblown, self-involved statements and then flexing, as if preparing themselves for arguments they were sure were coming; it was the stereotype of the worst of the internet made real, and it was literally everywhere that week — even those who were traditionally calm and open and thoughtful seemed to be crouching, scanning the horizon for potential threats.
It was exhausting, and upsetting. It was disappointing, too, a constant stream of, not you too, you’re better than this…! that wore me down every single day. I knew the answer was to walk away and let this particular fever of nerves and anxiety and anger burn itself out, but I also knew that I couldn’t; I had to keep an eye on things for work. So, I did that, and felt myself slowly but surely get sick of the internet.
I’ll get over it; I don’t feel quite so tired and saddened by everything even now, if I’m honest. But, truth be told, at the time, it felt a little like heartbreak. This was, after all, my place — and then, it wasn’t.