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.
There’s something almost unthinkable about the coronavirus effect on reality right now. As I write, locally, schools and libraries are closed for the next few weeks at the very least, my various employers are all working from home or in the process of setting up plans to — something particularly amusing to me, who’s been doing that all along, I confess — and the grocery store shelves are creepily empty, thanks to panic-buying and people preparing for something akin to an apocalypse.
And maybe they’re not overreacting, as much as my brain like to pretend. The spread of COVID-19 is such that, even when it was, in theory, outside the US — although, let’s be honest, it was certainly here before that was officially the case; I’m genuinely half convinced that’s what my “mystery viruses” from January and February actually were at this point — it still had a scale and a speed that felt fictional in its power. “How can something so big move so fast?” as the cliche dialogue put it.
The first point where I really felt it, the impact it was having, wasn’t when I was sick, oddly enough. At that point, I was just sick and trying to get through it but, generally keeping my spirits high. No, it was just after, when making the decision whether or not to attend Emerald City Comic Con in what would’ve been a couple of weeks. By then, the virus was clearly rampant in Seattle, where the con was to be held, and I kept thinking that, if I went, I would almost certainly get infected, given how weak my immune system was at the time. The forward planning of, if you do this, you will get sick was surreal mental math that brought home just what was going on.
Somehow, still, I didn’t expect the breadth of what’s happened in response. Conferences and conventions cancelled, sure, they’re gatherings of thousands of people. But movies being pulled from release, the widespread shutdown of businesses and workplaces, the slow but steady removal of the everyday that shrinks what we think of as life to just what’s inside our homes…? With each step, it feels more serious and important, and I get that little bit more scared.
I should probably wash my hands more.