The first week of our national corona quarantine was March 14 – 21, 2020, and I ran into too much defeatism. Here’s an example. Take a look at this AP analysis article that says Americans will find it difficult to beat the coronavirus by following directions to sit passively at home, because we prefer taking decisive action. Well, duh. First of all, nobody said we’re supposed to be passive. And second, when the article came out on Tuesday, I was in the middle of several radio and TV interviews about using technology to work from home. And that was after I made a video about working from home the day before. I’m not trying to brag–well, maybe a little–I bring it up because I was the opposite of passive. When our leaders told us to stay home, lots of people got busy. Passive, my eye!
Here’s more defeatism. On Sunday, March 22, 2020, WCCO Radio in Minneapolis broadcast a morning news talk show instead of the usual Sports Huddle show. Paul Douglas was on the air from his basement, practicing appropriate social isolation instead of going into the studio, which was good. He talked about fear for his weather technology companies, which was honest. But then he claimed over and over that the whole world is shut down. How can the world be shut down when you’re broadcasting on the radio that the world is shut down? The radio station adapted; it didn’t shut down.
While I listened to how the world was shut down, I drove to the MSP Post Office and mailed a book to a friend, and then bought butter from Costo and eggs from Sams Club. Both store parking lots were full, groceries flew off the shelves, and store employees hustled to stock shelves.
How is the world shut down again?
Here is one more defeatism anecdote. I got into a Facebook dispute with a criminal defense attorney with 36 years of courtroom experience, who says we need to shut down the court system because we can’t maintain social separation in crowded courtrooms, and we can’t connect people over video to run trials. This is hogwash. Americans don’t roll over and give up in the face of adversity. And Eisenhower isn’t the president anymore.
I’m not trying to minimize what we’re facing here. Marriott is furloughing tens of thousands of people, bars and restaurants everywhere are empty, airlines are in trouble, schools are closed, organized sports are in limbo, and everyone is afraid. The upheaval is real. Lots of people are feeling lots of pain, and more is coming.
But the world is not shut down. Not even close.
Out of every crisis comes opportunity, and we are already inventing and learning new ways to get things done. We will adapt and recover, because that’s what we do in the United States. We innovate. Because the alternative is unthinkable.
Don’t believe me? Here’ s just one inspirational story in the news. With the shortage of ventilators, a University of Minnesota anesthesiologist came up with a design for a simple ventilator he claims will cost about one tenth of today’s ventilators. He worked on it all week with other doctors, built a prototype, and now has companies ready to manufacture them in quantity. All he needs is a yes from the FDA, and he says he can have hundreds ready in two weeks, thousands in three weeks.
Stories about ordinary people finding ways to help are everywhere. Restaurants deliver food to medical first responders. Volunteer groups donate fabric and sew masks. Other volunteers donate badly needed masks to hospitals. Moms and daughters livestream family gatherings. It’s not passive. It’s just different.
Even phishing attacks demonstrate the world is still working, and ever-more creative attacks keep coming. One recent email claimed to come from the World Health Organization soliciting donations. It had helpful instructions to “donate” via bitcoin. A whois lookup showed it originated in Vietnam. Uh-huh, yeah, sure – just send money blindly to a bitcoin address. I hope somebody catches these clowns and puts them on trial.
And speaking of trials – a public court trial needs a judge, jury, plaintiff, defendant, and a clerk. With twelve people on a jury, my Minnesota math says that adds up to sixteen players. During this quarantine period, use computers, webcams, and a video collaboration service to run court trials and connect all those players in whatever combination of video or in-person that makes sense. Display everyone in windows on the clerk’s computer, and maybe in a big monitor mounted on the courtroom wall, and then livestream the clerk’s computer screen across the internet. That satisfies the requirement for public trials and the requirement for accused to face their accusers. Longer term, it might even help with speedy trials by simplifying travel logistics.
This crisis demands we explore new ways to do things. Refusing new ideas with the excuse, we’ve always done things the old way, has always been a recipe for atrophy and decline. In the middle of a global pandemic, it could be recipe for disaster.
Let’s stamp out defeatism and win with innovation. Let’s show the world what America at its best can do. We don’t need to shut down. We do need to try different approaches.