Letters from Lockdown: On how we find escape online (even in a spreadsheet)

Imagine quarantine without the internet hoo boy no thanks

Hi all,

I’ve endured a few wifi blackouts during the lockdown, including this morning. There’s a particular panic-inducing helplessness to losing your only connection to the outside world during a pandemic.

When it first happened in April, I decided that the only way to get through it was to become extremely zen about it: no one could reasonably expect work on a tight schedule from me right now, because we’re all trapped. There’s nowhere for me to take my laptop for better internet. Even if I’m isolated right now, surely we’re all in this together? At least I still had phone data so that I could explain the situation when needed.

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Imagine if we’d had to go through COVID-19 20 years ago? How would we have coped in an analogue era? I can’t really picture it; the internet has woven its way so completely through my existence that I’m not entirely sure who I am without it.

Instead of tweets, maybe notes scribbled on paper blue-tacked up in our windows? Major disinfection efforts at libraries, which would include bookmarks for us to write messages on? Would newspapers become vectors of disease? We would be so constrained by geography if this had happened in spring 2000, or any time before that.

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I’m reading Susan Orlean’s The Library Book at the moment, and it’s showing; I’ve got libraries on my mind. Is there any place - apart from council leisure centre swimming pools perhaps - where I spend less time now, but were such major features of my childhood?

I loved library trips with my mum - usually to the local branch in Hornchurch, but occasionally to the huge Central Library in Romford, a treat that would last me for weeks, until the books needed returning.

This paragraph of Orlean’s takes me right back to those times:

“My mother was the one person besides me who knew what those gauzy afternoons had been like. I knew I was writing this because I was trying hard to preserve those afternoons. I convinced myself that committing them to a page meant the memory was saved, somehow, from the corrosive effect of time.”

Library trips were the best escape we had, as kids in the analogue age.

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For the majority of the lockdown, though, most of us have been lucky enough to have working wifi in our homes. That’s given us a window on how other people have felt during the pandemic, and how they’ve used their creativity to make living through it more bearable. We can share our digital escapes.

Marie Foulston, a creative producer and former Curator of Videogames at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London [best job title on the podcast, ever] joins me on the latest episode to talk about the house party she threw in a spreadsheet (Google Sheets to be exact - the real-time collaboration element is key) in early May; why the Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing: New Horizons has gone big during lockdown; and how Zoom makes us all even more anxious.

You can take a look at the document here; I’m torn between the garden sheet and the sunrise sheet for my faves. They’re both major elements of the best nights out from my 20s…

For further reading, here’s a great NYT piece on the work Marie did at the V & A.

I really enjoyed what Marie had to say about using the tools we have to create new spaces and new kinds of collaboration online. That feels like a great lesson to carry out of lockdown, whenever this thing officially ends.

Pod listening time

Links links links

  • Homecoming Season 2 came out on Amazon Prime, and I did that thing where I wondered where the hell Season 1 had been? Turns out it was back in 2018, it stars Julia Roberts and Stephan James and it’s mesmerising. Season 2 has Janelle Monáe doing incredible work in the lead role of a related story that takes us even deeper into this mysterious world… can you tell I loved it? I did, I loved it.

Some kind words

Shoutout to @freelancepod, part of our #ForABetterInternet series. Creator @suchandrika has reinvented the newsletter as "Letters from Lockdown," a way to share, understand, and record this pandemic experience. Follow to learn more. #Lovies
May 22, 2020

The next episode features an editor from MEL Magazine, and there are tips on how to pitch the publication, so not one to miss! Should be out at the end of next week.

Thank you for reading / listening! Take care. Until next time… x