This is a repost of a post I wrote for SpigotMC under the pseudo-blog ‘MD’s Soapbox’. You can view the original post and comments here.
If your recent experience has been anything like mine, it has probably been filled with a frenzy of COVID-19 news, toilet paper shortages, and an inbox full of companies promising to help you with their products in these uncertain times. I cannot communicate anything which governments and experts have not already, nor is it appropriate/necessary for me to let you know we still exist (not that I have anything to sell you). And no, you cannot have my toilet paper either. Instead I thought I might use this opportunity and platform to communicate a message which although not revolutionary is a far cry from almost everything else I have encountered recently. Those of you who have been with me since the beginning (nearly a decade ago!) might recall a predilection for long form content, and to either your disdain or delight this post marks a brief return to that: MD’s soapbox if you will.
Although I have had the great pleasure of meeting hundreds of you in person, the reality is that most of us only know each other through our online interactions. The situation which we are all facing right now is not confined to, or indeed even a product of these interactions. As such in writing this post, I wanted to try and break through this virtual barrier that divides us and address you all at a level that, at least on this platform, is not the norm. In doing so I recalled the phrase ‘Remember the Human’. In another time and place this phrase might be one of chastise — a reminder to all be civil to each other — but today I instead use it thematically, as a guide for what I am to write next, and I hope as a guide to all of you dealing with this situation, whether online here or back in the ‘real world’.
‘On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.’ Whilst I must confess that I am not in fact a dog, the comic nevertheless again illustrates the point that online we do not, and cannot engage with each other to the same extent that we do elsewhere. To some reading this post I am just a guy with an orange avatar and bright red tag that says ‘Administrator’. To others I am the guy that ‘makes Spigot’. To most of you I am ‘md_5’, the guy that does/has the previous things. To my closer online friends (and those who have presumptuously scrutinised my Twitter) I am ‘Michael’, a university student that runs a lot. But very few would be able to (legitimately) say much more about me than that. The same is true between the vast majority of the 750,000+ people on this website. We are known to each other not by who we are, but simply by what we do: X moderator, Y plugin developer, Z server owner, and so on — it is these roles that shape the bulk of our interactions. To be clear there is nothing inherently wrong with this — it is largely inevitable, and probably preferred by some. I make it my central point however because now more than ever it is prudent to look past these roles and to take the time to be cognisant, but more importantly supportive, of the unique situations being faced by each and every one of us. We are fortunate enough to be part of an incredibly global community and with this comes a vast array of experiences from countries that are all at different stages of this crisis.
I said that this was my soapbox, so it is only proper that I start this conversation with my own experience. If nothing else there is perhaps some satisfaction to be gained in venting to as many different people as possible. Perhaps even the relative anonymity which I have just lambasted makes it easier to do so.
To be completely honest I am not scared of the Coronavirus. This is not a slight on anyone who is, and more importantly it is not meant to be disrespectful towards those who have been directly affected by it. It is simply my personal view of the situation. What I am scared about, or more accurately, worried about, is the effect on society. When I say this I don’t mean the lack of toilet paper or ridiculous hoarding — I have no doubt that will soon abate — but rather the uncertainty of the quarantine (aka sparkling isolation) that is sweeping across sectors in Australia, and no doubt the entire rest of the world.
I mentioned before that I was a university student. As a general rule I am all about balance in life and university is a part of that balance. It is at least as important to me as Spigot, which is to say that it is a large part of my life. Things first started to change for me last Thursday when my faculty, notorious for not recording classes, capitulated and started recording them for later viewing. Class attendance was still business as usual on the Friday (near 100%), but by Monday attendance had dropped to 50–60%. That evening we were told that the entire university (> 50,000 students) would be essentially entirely online in two weeks. By the next day (Tuesday) my subjects had already started to commit to online teaching and take-home exams. It is/was only week 3 of semester and it seemed to have been written off already, never to be the same. That afternoon we were then told that the date had been moved up and Friday was to be the last day of classes. After just 3 weeks back, Thursday and Friday were to be the last ‘normal’ classes till late at least late July.
If I were to describe my own reaction to this news, I would simply use the word ‘upset’. Not necessarily upset at any individual change (for they can each be overcome to some degree), but upset at the rapid and abrupt change to what is an important part of my life and an important part of the lives of many many others — both my friends and classmates, and also the millions in similar situations around the world.
Today was my last day of normal university classes for the foreseeable future. I use the word normal although really it was anything but. Upon walking into the building, I was greeted by cleaners constantly wiping down every surface with disinfectant and signs on every lecture theatre door telling us to sit 1.5 metres apart (though this would not be an issue however as classes that had 60 people a week ago were now down to 15). Now having now gotten through this challenging week, I am however particularly grateful to my classmates and lecturers who stayed till the very end, and those friends who I have already talked to about the situation we all now face.
This is of course not the only change going on. There are small changes to life as well like a renewed focus on handwashing and changes to my running routine, another important aspect of my life. I chose however to share this particular vignette not just because of its recency and importance to me, but also because whether you love it or hate it, education and disruption thereof is a common thread that links or will link many of us together.
Although perhaps useful as a side effect, I must also stress that I felt the need to write and share this post not because I felt I had to write about what is happening to me (although if in replying you do wish to do that it is ok, nay, encouraged) but because I wanted to provide a start to this dialog in the theme of Remember the Human (in this case me). I hope that by sharing what is at least on some level a personal experience, others will do the same.
To bring my part of the story so far to an end, I conclude with the words of Bear Grylls: ‘Improvise. Adapt. Overcome’. There are without a doubt many challenges still to come. I will be doing my best to adapt to and overcome them, and I wish each and every one of you the best and success in doing the same.
To link back to the overall theme and reiterate one final time: please, Remember the Human. Behind each online account and persona there is a real person with a real and unique situation. Unique does not mean alone. Talk, share, and discuss what is going on — now more than ever. I particularly encourage you to do it in this thread which I am leaving open for this purpose, but also feel free to have a chat or reach out to me personally on Twitter.