At 8:45 each weekday morning, I drop off my four-year-old at preschool, hug him goodbye, and drive back home. Most days, that is the last time I share a room with another human being until he and my wife return home at 5:15 p.m. Often, it’s the last time I leave the house.
That’s not to say my life is particularly lonely. I have interesting and pleasant interactions with co-workers on Slack, friends and family via text message, and strangers on Twitter. (Okay, not all of them are pleasant.) I conference into meetings using Google Meet and Zoom. And I do it all from a little college town in Delaware, where my wife and I can afford to live in a modest house for less than we used to pay for a one-bedroom apartment in graduate student housing in New York City.
Never going anywhere turns out to be especially convenient in a time of pandemic. While my virtual friends in big cities cower in terror from sneezers on the subway and scrub their hands with the fervor of Macbeth, I roam my house in luxurious freedom, a bottle of hand sanitizer accruing dust in a medicine cabinet. Sometimes I touch my face just for the hell of it.
In the face of a coronavirus outbreak that has so far eluded all attempts at containment, mine is a shut-in lifestyle that millions of people find themselves trying on for the first time. Tech companies are encouraging workers to stay home; schools and colleges are moving their classes online; conferences are being canceled; sporting events are being held in empty stadiums.
It feels, in some ways, like a dress rehearsal for a future that was already on its way — one in which more and more of us self-isolate voluntarily, interacting with the outside world only from behind screens.
Dreary as that might sound, the advantages would be enormous. Think of the effects on commute times, housing prices, gridlock, and greenhouse gas emissions if large swaths of society stopped driving into the office and began working from home. Think of how it would empower people whose disabilities make it hard for them to get around.
It feels, in some ways, like a dress rehearsal for a future…