This long-form piece in the Atlantic by Ed Yong, Why the Coronavirus Is So Confusing, is excellent on a number of levels. I want to focus on just one that I found personally helpful: the context and motivation behind the way I have been reacting to the crisis.
First let’s stipulate that our condition in this pandemic is liminal: life is uncertain, ambiguous, not what it was before and not yet what it will become. This in-the-middleness will go on for a while. I have just been coming to grips with the likelihood that sheltering-at-home could last months not weeks. And the time to a vaccine? It could easily be 5 years, and it could be never. So, we live in liminality in what feels like an acute crisis, but is not; it is going to be with us for the medium term at the very least.
Here are two passages from Yong’s Atlantic article that bring us into the spirit of the thing. First up, an insight from Carl Bergstrom, epidemiologist and sociologist of science at the University of Washington:
Next is wisdom from Renée DiResta at Stanford and Kate Starbird at the University of Washington, who study how information flows online, especially during a crisis. (The emphasis is mine.)
For at least 25 years I have been an infovore: possessed of a powerful urge to collect and curate information and distribute it to people who I thought might make use of it. I began doing this in 1994 while working for a software company, starting what would evolve into a newsletter and blog on the subject of the internet.
So when the pandemic was suddenly upon us in March, my first inclination was to capture the experience in a blog, and also to share whatever authoritative information I came across that might be helpful to others. Some of that sharing happened here and some on Facebook, but the bulk if it went to a private email list I have maintained since the days of my internet newsletter.
Some of the members of that list have infovore tendencies to match my own.
Here are the counts of monthly email messages exchanged on the list in recent months:
2019-nov: 429 2019-dec: 412 2020-jan: 461 2020-feb: 499 2020-mar: 1294 2020-apr: 799
So I learn from the academics Ed Yong interviewed that my recent altruistic compulsive collecting and sharing of COVID-19 information springs from a quite normal reaction to a sudden but not acute crisis, amplified by my inherent and long-standing infovore tendencies. Good to know.
Perhaps I can relax a little now.