Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Mar 24: President Trump  says he hopes to revise national social-distancing guidelines by Easter, April 12, so U.S. businesses can resume operations.  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) warns that the rate of coronavirus in his state is doubling every three days. The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are suspended until 2021. India and United Kingdom go into lockdown. FBI agents shoot dead a man known for white supremacist views who was plotting an attack on a Missouri hospital treating coronavirus patients. New York passes 20,000 coronavirus cases. Overwhelmed hospitals are keeping out everyone who does not need to be there, and that means delaying the start of new clinical trials for other needed drugs. A study finds that hydroxychloroquine, a malaria medicine President Trump has hailed as a coronavirus treatment, was no more effective than regular care for COVID-19. *

From the Cutting Room Floor...

Overnight, a new online tool called Zoom has become the means by which we connect to the outside world.

Among many others, philosopher Martin Heidegger argued that technology is dangerous because it mediates how we experience the world. He believed that we are shackled by the tools that artificially connect us to each other, that only by perceiving its danger can we avoid it.

As long as we are interacting online, we will be defined to some extent by this technological framework. When he wrote this in 1927, Heidegger couldn’t imagine Zoom, WhatsApp, MarcoPolo, Voxer , or any of the other internet-based technologies that now hold this current world together. Right now, On the one hand, he is absolutely correct; tools like Zoom will control our reality in millions of incalculable ways. It will become the primary way of “revealing” a particular reality to us. Being itself will become something that is defined by a technological framework that will shape every choice we make. Everything, including us human beings, will become a raw material that is manipulated and defined by that technological framework. Even more upsetting, technology creates a thinking framework from which we cannot escape. Even if we tried to come up with some new way of being that was not defined by our interactions with technology, that would still be a part of the larger technological framework. We would be defined by our active choice not to be in the framework, which is a state of being that is still defined by the framework. Technology is philosophically scary. Of course, so is Heidegger.[1]

At the same time, if we can resign ourselves to a technological ontology (or state of being), if we can just accept that we are trapped in this world, it is hard to ignore all the ways that tools like Zoom are going to make possible the continuation of life through this pandemic. Because of technology, kids can keep going to school and their parents . People can keep their jobs. People They can see a doctor, order their groceries, connect with friends and family, offer help to others, and not be so alone.

Zoom has already started to create a new way of being. For instance, it demands that we all learn a new etiquette: Auto-mute yourself when you join, unmute when you need to talk, then re-mute. Make sure you’re not backlit. Make your background image is appropriate and uncluttered. Don’t go to Zoom meetings in bed. If you have to share your own computer screen, for the love of God, make sure what comes up is appropriate for everyone to see.

For those of us who teach sensitive topics that require careful reading and discussion, Zoom is no substitute for in-person education. It is hard to know when to let a pause happen, when to see that a student wants to speak but is too shy to raise their hand, when to perceive that they are hurting emotionally. No doubt, we will hack through the rest of the semester. I will record my lecture on the Holocaust, knowing that it is the most important lecture I give for in that class, but I already know most of my students will not watch it. I will grade my students’ papers on Svetlana Alexievich’s Zinky Boys, but we won’t be able to discuss the brutality of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or the scars left by war.

They may not seem like much, but these discussions matter. In a world that values the movement of capital over almost everything else, these sorts f discussions reinforce the importance of empathy and the fragility of life. I will stumble through the uncomfortable, exhausting Zoom classes, where every session feels doubly long. I recognize that for some learners, even if class is on Zoom, it is still an important experience and I need to think carefully about how to connect with them. I think of the students who want to learn, who want to be in the classroom with me, who see school as a great emancipator. But for every one of those, I suspect two see college merely as a credentialing service, a notch on the resume, and a chance to put off adulthood. They may think that Zoom is fine—and, as Heidegger reminds us, that is all the more reason to be wary of it.



[1] Martin Heidegger, Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays, The (New York, NY: Harper Torchbooks, 1977). 

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Gingrich 360. Newt Gingrich on Fox and Friends | Fox News | February 24, 2020, 2020.

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Akpan, Nsikan. “Coronavirus Spikes Outside China Show Travel Bans Aren’t Working.” Science, February 24, 2020.
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Stephens, Jeanie. “Video: Wood River Officer Made Men Leave Walmart Because They Wore Masks.” Alton Telegraph, March 24, 2020.
Sawyer, Wendy, and Peter Wagner. “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2020,” March 24, 2020.
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* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.