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How life has changed with the pandemic

by Tom Johnson on Mar 16, 2020 •
categories: writing

These past two weeks have been incredibly disruptive in terms of world events, and while I usually avoid writing about current events and tend to stay within the tech comm focus, it seems like ignoring the elephant in the room not to mention something about the Coronavirus pandemic.

So much about my life has changed. Granted, the changes don’t compare to anyone experiencing extreme illness or losing a loved one. But there are still lots of disruptions. My college daughter, enjoying her first year at UCSB, has returned home as all classes have transitioned online. We had to re-arrange our bedroom situation again, adding in another bed and shifting around who shares which rooms among the 4 kids.

Packing in 6 people into a 1,000 square foot home with one bathroom means everyone has a small allotment of space. After a bed and desk, there’s not much room for extra stuff. We have become hyper-space efficient (or strive to be). We did have to move more items into the garage, though, which means we can no longer park there. We’re using my daughter’s college dorm mini-fridge as a second fridge.

Both my wife and I transitioned to working from home. Since I already work with so many remote teams in Irvine, Seattle, Chennai, and Bangalore, all the remote setup was already in place. But I did bring my big monitor home and have set up my space more comfortably at home. Here’s my little office nook:

I actually like my home setup and just ordered some new headphones to improve my experience in meetings. In some ways, with everyone working from home, it’s easier to interface with remote people. Previously, when I would call into stand-ups taking place elsewhere, I could barely hear people, as they often did not go of their way to speak into a mic. Now with everyone dialing in, I can hear everything crystal clear. And I won’t be left out of hallway conversations and other spontaneous undocumented decisions. Even so, it’s distracting to work from home with so many people in the house.

With sports basically gone (except for UFC and golf), I have started to play more video games. I’m not a gamer, but I have figured out that if I have a video game walkthrough playing on my laptop (which I can pause at every stage) with the regular game on my main screen (see above), I can get through some of these more difficult games (difficult for me anyway). Video games are a welcome distraction to the otherwise bleak and repetitive news. The scenario reminds me of Ready Player One, where people turned to an online world with avatars and virtual spaces in place of the ugly, polluted, awful reality outside.

The kids’ schools have closed, which is likely the biggest challenge. We checked out books from the library just one day before the library itself shut down. Even so, keeping a nine-year-old occupied in a structured way is challenging. She is seriously into Tik Tok and has already made more than a hundred videos. All her soccer practices and games (and birthday party invites) have been canceled. There’s no strong physical outlet, which leaves little room for emotions to remain balanced among the siblings.

The whole social-distancing practices we follow make me feel like I’m in a dystopian movie, where I’m in a deep-space capsule or something and need to implement my own regiments — a routine for daily exercise, a routine for grooming, a routine for writing, and other daily habits. Without my regular bike-to-work routine and no basketball, I find my physical fitness on pause. Fortunately, biking is one of those activities that is welcome during this time of social distancing, so I plan to take a daily ride (just as soon as this endless rain stops) and go on more walks with my wife.

I would like to say that I’m above herd mentality, but the other night I stayed awake trying to anticipate any needed items. I thought it would be good to stock up on flu medicine, and the next morning I set out to Walgreens and Target to get some. The line at Target nearly wrapped around the store, and upon entering, I was allowed one package of disinfectant wipes. I followed the rush of others to the toilet paper aisle and managed to get one of the last packages, along with a two-pack of paper towels. While standing in line to check out (another long line), I learned I was allowed only one critical item. So I kept the toilet paper, all the while feeling shame and shallowness for buying it. I don’t really need toilet paper — yet. I ordered a bidet just the other day because of this shortage. But seeing everyone frantically buy it, and then finding it gone from shelves everywhere, I couldn’t help but succumb to the same panic mentality.

It’s certainly reassuring to see China close their last temporarily constructed hospital, as they seem to now be containing the virus. I imagine it will be several more weeks in the US before this happens. But the events have also made me wonder about a future where this is the norm — where most interactions take place online, and crowded events are few and far between. In such a world, I think we might survive (not “thrive,” as few would thrive) as information workers who are publishing documentation and other content online. Other roles, even professional NBA players, don’t seem to have much of a role in the current situation. About all they do now is post random video clips from their phones online.

If this were really the long-term reality, how would life change? Would sports become a series of audience-less UFC-like cage matches streamed on the web? What would events be like without a cheering crowd? What other roles would disappear, and what new roles would form?

With everyone home all day, the house is certainly bustling with energy. But each time one of my daughter’s goes out to a friend’s house and returns, everyone shouts “Wash your hands!” and demands that the incoming sibling disinfect. I think it will just be a matter of time before someone in my family gets it, and then we’ll all surely be sick and how will that month-long quarantine go? Who will make the daily rounds to the supermarket and pharmacy when we’re all in quarantine? Who will be strong enough to care for the others? Hopefully, the kids will be spared anything but mild symptoms, as seems to be the trend with youth. But the unknown and uncertainty is unsettling.

During this time it’s hard to focus on work and tech comm, but at the same time, if all you see on the media is the same news everywhere, it can be overwhelming. It’s hard to focus, when life is so disrupted. I hope to provide one respite into normalcy and distraction on my blog, even if only brief.

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