Who remembers Covid-92?
That was my first year of being a working musician full-time, teaching guitar and playing clubs in the Seattle area in the genesis of the Grunge Era. I taught music off of cassette tapes. The internet was mostly text, message boards, and free nets.
When Covid struck, there were arguments, confusion and concern. It took a while but people adjusted to wearing masks and face coverings everywhere they went… school, work, buses, theater, the movies.
Wait? People kept going to clubs and movies?
Not everyone. The most fearful tried to stay home. Retail and entertainment industries had a crappy year. But since we all had to go to school and work, we accepted a certain level of theoretical exposure to the virus, and we trusted in our masks to help us stay safe. And since our kids were exposed at school and we were exposed at work, most of us figured we might as well go out for fun too. I mean, who wants to lose out on the most enjoyable parts of life.
You’re asking if I remember this correctly? Yes. Of course…Covid 1992.
Now, you ask, “why didn’t you just shop on Amazon, and do school online, and video conference on Zoom? I mean, that’s what high speed internet is for, right?”
Yep, I point out. We didn’t have that then. Where I teach music now, in 2020, I’ve only had high speed internet for 12 years. Apparently that’s long enough for a lot of us to forget that most of modern human history existed without it.
I think that high speed internet is the most crucial (and crucially under discussed) aspect of 2020’s governmental and cultural response to the pandemic. Within 48 hours of the realization that coronavirus was a vivid and present reality in our Western Washington lives (and not just some minor global news item) we were shifting our entire lives homeward. The hidden player in that insanely massive and unanimous cultural shift was our faith in high speed internet. We didn’t question its efficacy, we didn’t wrangle adequately with the implications of quarantine, and we didn’t strategize other solutions (e.g. it took months to mandate and achieve near universal mask-wearing). We just put our lives in the hands of Comcast, a technology that we normally had bitched about on a daily basis.
Thinking about a world without high speed internet (which was basically the world until around 2006) is a window into possibilities. It is a lens through which we can examine how we handled Covid this year versus how we would have been compelled to handle it in the early 90s. It is a wedge we can drive between the virus and the way many people still feel compelled to respond. It could help us separate ourselves from our prior response, to weigh our future response as the medical reality of the pandemic continues…and seems to go on without end.
And our intense reliance on high speed internet this year is an amazing opportunity to reflect on our assumptions about that technology. In what ways has it worked? As a music teacher, Zoom video conferencing has largely exceeded my expectations. I’ve gotten used to connecting with people intimately over what at first felt like a very forced medium. It reminds me of how in my earlier days of writing I felt like typing somehow separated me from the feeling of creative writing. But we also need to be brutally honest with what is not working. The ways in which high speed internet has failed to effectively replace aspects of modern life. For example, while I praise Zoom, I also know that I can’t play in real time with my students, and as much as I can stay socially connected to them, I can’t be musically connected to them in a way which is invaluable. We definitely need to be honest right now about the things we have lost. We can’t afford to be browbeaten by assumptions about the danger of the virus coupled with the alternate “easy replacement’ of virtual connections. Just one example: Can we really educate elementary school students effectively in an online medium? I would argue absolutely not. So even if nothing at all changes medically or statistically there is a point at which our response has to change….
….and learn from Covid 92.