As COVID-19’s nanoparticular might threatens to strike down the eldery and immunocompromised among us, the existential havoc it wreaks on younger generations may look compositionally different altogether.
The great crisis of those born anytime after 1981 is that there have been few great crises at all. What felt like the defining black swan events of recent history, do not match the global scale of COVID-19’s reach. We speak of 2008’s economic hardships, 9/11, the everlasting wars in the Middle East and the American opioid epidemic. We talk of the battle social media has waged on our psychology and democracy—and yet, none of these events forcibly affect the daily lives of every living individual in the anthropocene, the way COVID-19, and its butterfly-wing rippling effects, now will.
So now, together, we step up to the hot plate and ready our pipettes for an unpredictable experiment. What happens when our generation, with so few events that have stopped us in time, is all at once made to be holistically and supernaturally present? Suddenly forced en masse, to sit at home for weeks on end, who do we become?
Certainly we will Tik Tok, Facetime, and meme our way through the pandemic. We will swig White Claws, binge eat, overconsume news, try to learn if Love Is Blind on Netflix, and mainline all manners of media. But at some point even those of us most hooked to the information hose, will inevitably be forced, as Timothy Leary said, to turn on, tune in, and drop out—to be with ourselves in a way that we haven’t as a generation.
Not in a 10 day Vipassana, “I have chosen this quest” way.
Not in a “I set a 15 minute daily Instagram limit” way.
In a “I am doing a disservice to mankind if I am not at home” way.
In a “I might kill my grandmother if I don’t” way.
During this time, we may begin to ask ourselves questions that don’t have easy practical answers.
Does my job matter?
Do I contribute something to society that I feel good about?
Is the way I treat others the way I want to be treated?
A state many of us have fleetingly found in the loving hands of chemical combinations, both organic and inorganic, may find its way into life in lockdown. And maybe there, we find without societies pressures so obvious we in fact unlock something else inside ourselves altogether. Might the isolation of self-quarantine be the greatest psychedelic trip of all?
And if it is, perhaps those of us in isolation can use this long strange trip into our inner lives to contemplate the sacrifices so many in our society are making right now for our greater and general protection. The nurses, doctors, Postmates, and Instacarters. The garbage men, sheriffs, firefighters and mayors who keep our communities buzzing along as miniscule invaders threaten daily life in late stage capitalism. Perhaps for even just a moment, we’ll stand in utter awe at the immense complexity of this thing called modern life, wondering at all the moving parts, human and machine, that make it possible for us to live lives of relative abundance, and in turn letting that which doesn’t hold real meaning to us, simply fall away.