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- When the Checkpoints Come“We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.” The first line of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is pregnant with the novella’s whole plot, wherein a military dictatorship turns fertile women into sex slaves. When authoritarian control descends in fiction, it often does so like this, through narrative retrospect. From the vantage point of the future, the past’s mundane trifles become newly absorbing. Atwood’s gymnasium is meaningful because sleeping there is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong.Today, as COVID-19 tears across the globe, signs of authoritarian control are making the jump from fiction to reality. In China, which already operates a massive and very real security state, facial recognition, phone data, and helmet-mounted thermal cameras have helped authorities control the outbreak. These efforts are so widespread, they have already been propagandized, in promotional videos wherein drones disperse groups of people playing newly dangerous sidewalk games of mah-jongg.… ..... Read More.1 week ago
- Social Distancing Is Making Instagram More IntimateOn Friday, in the middle of my fifth consecutive workday spent utterly alone, I snapped. A crowded subway train seemed like a far-off fantasy, an office full of slumped shoulders like a scene I would never witness again. The world was 410 square feet, and I would have paid money to look up close at a face other than my own.Instead of sobbing into my elbow, I picked up my phone and watched an Instagram Story of a college acquaintance’s girlfriend, sitting on his bed, taking a video conference call with her co-workers. She looked happy, even though her boyfriend’s bedroom looked like every boyfriend’s bedroom—IKEA comforter, IKEA desk, IKEA lamp. It was totally boring, and I loved it.That was just the first one. I watched little clips of friends and strangers lying on couches and spraying down surfaces. A former co-worker was recording a podcast from inside her coat… ..... Read More.2 weeks ago
- How to Understand Your State’s Coronavirus NumbersEvery piece of data we currently have about the novel coronavirus is imperfect and incomplete.Almost three weeks after the first confirmed case of community spread—a patient who had not traveled anywhere with known cases or had contact with anyone known to be infected— the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still is not publishing state-level data about how many people have been tested for the virus.As a result, The Atlantic has been maintaining the Covid Tracking Project, the only source of state-level testing data through time, in collaboration with the data scientist Jeff Hammerbacher and a team of volunteers. That work has taught us how to read the different types of numbers that are trickling out of local, state, and federal agencies. The project has been able to track just over 8,000 people tested in the United States, where there are more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused… ..... Read More.2 weeks ago
- The People Selling Hand Sanitizer for 10 Times Its Price“I saw a little bit of an opportunity. Worst-case scenario, I have hand sanitizer for the next six years,” Anthony Del Zio, a 39-year-old Long Island man who owns an industrial-power-washing company, told me on the phone.Two weeks ago, Del Zio went to the drugstores near his house, as well as a Dollar Tree, and stocked up on hand sanitizer. At the time, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in New York State, but he had a hunch that his efforts would be worthwhile. As of yesterday, 173 cases have been confirmed in New York, a large share of the 1,015 nationwide. In response to the exploding case numbers, people all over the country have been preparing for worst-case scenarios of prolonged quarantine by panic-buying supplies such as food, toiletries, and other household staples—along with hand sanitizer and face masks, which they… ..... Read More.3 weeks ago
- A Chart to Explain Your Entire WorldviewHow do you keep track of what page you’re on in a book?The answer tells you everything you need to know about the moral lens through which you view the world. At least, that’s according to a chart that was widely circulated on Twitter last month (and originally shared on Tumblr). The axes of the nine-square grid—lawful, neutral, chaotic across the top; good, neutral, evil down the side—assign expansive significance to each choice. Using a book ribbon as a bookmark, the chart tells you, is “lawful good.” Scrap paper and receipts are still good, but also chaotic. Using a normal bookmark is “true neutral,” while leaving the book open and upside down is “neutral evil.”This chart went viral mainly because it prompted debate and defensiveness. How is dog-earing a page more “evil” than marking it with random garbage? How can reading an ebook be considered a “neutral” choice? And that’s… ..... Read More.3 weeks ago
- You Already Live in QuarantineLast Wednesday, I sat down in my office in midtown Atlanta to conduct a lunchtime writing seminar in Durham, North Carolina. I had considered flying in for the event, but my schedule was in flux, and the hassle of transit for a short meeting seemed excessive. At the suggestion of my hosts, I logged in to the videoconferencing program Zoom instead and led the event from my desk chair.I hadn’t avoided the trip out of concern about the coronavirus; my plans had been set before cases really began to crop up in the U.S. But over the next day, Zoom’s stock rose over 10 percent, shored up on the perverse hope that global disruption might increase demand for remote meetings. In Italy, whole towns had been locked down, tens of thousands of people immobilized at home. Zoom was a diamond in the rough; lockdowns such as Italy’s and general global… ..... Read More.4 weeks ago