As I sit here, in my last 9 hours of quarantine, it’s got me thinking a lot about how different things would be had I been quarantined five years ago instead of today. Keep in mind, five years is not a very long time. It’s the time it takes an overachiever to finish undergrad and tack on a master’s degree, or an underachiever to finish undergrad as a super-senior. Five years ago was 2004. But in what the crazies call “Internet time”, that is an entire generation. Seriously, think about it. Prior to 2004, these did not exist (apologies in advance to Andrew Lih – Wikipedia is the beginning *and* end of my research for these – I’d make a horrible journalist):
- Digg (founded in December ’04)
- Yelp (founded Oct ’04)
And these things happend in 2004:
- Google went public
- Facebook was founded
- WordPress turned 1 years old
- LinkedIn has been launched for 1 year
- MySpace turned 1
- Skype was four months old
Think about that for a minute. All of that has happend in the past five years. Back in the day, it took five years to get from New York to LA!
Flash forward to 2009, and it really is hard to imagine how boring quarantine would be without social media. Not that social media replaces or reduces the need for human interaction, but when you’re forced into a situation that specifically prevents human interaction, social media becomes your best alternative.
So how have things been different? Well, for starters, I skipped the Tokyo leg of the Geeks on a Plane trip. Yet I was able to keep up via twitter. Not just because I’d followed some of the other people, but because they setup a Twitter Group that basically re-tweets if anyone tweets with a certain hashtag or keyword (sorry Mom, didn’t mean to speak in geek there, but this post is kind of a geeky post to start with anyway). So I started seeing updates about the activities in Japan from people I didn’t even know who started participating in the #goap conversation. Five years ago, I would not have gotten any of that.
Jump to me in Beijing, and you quickly notice when you get a bunch of geeks on a bus with wifi, everyone is constantly snapping pictures, following each other on twitter and sharing the crap out of everything that’s going on.
Jump to me being in quarantine now, and I still get to stay up to speed on the action. They’re live streaming all the talks, tweeting all the action, twitpic-ing any funny shots. I think someone noted between the twitter group and all the re-tweeting amongst each other it turned into a giant echo chamber, but for someone stuck in quarantine with all the time in the world, you don’t mind so much.
During the TEDxShanghai event, Andrew Lih video conferenced me via Skype, and walked me around the room to socialize with people. While I was watching the livestream on Tudou.com of the event, I was struck by Kris Krug’s talk on being open. The specific line that struck me (and apparently everyone else cause it got retweeted like crazy) was, “If you don’t stick it on the Internet, it didn’t happen”. And it couldn’t have been more appropriate because I had been thinking of blogging for forever, but knew it was a major time commitment. Well, two days before the TEDxShanghai event, I suddenly found myself with nothing but time, and a lot to say. And so it was, I had been furiously blogging my quarantine experiences to make sure it definitely did happen (the most consistent comment I get from friends and family after reading the blog posts is, “wow, you must really have a lot of free time”).
The blog has done a number of things for me. First of all, each of those posts, believe it or not, takes several hours. I scour the internet for funny pictures and write and re-write captions (I have a new found appreciation for our editorial staff back at Break). So it serves as a great time killer. I’ve also gotten several emails from people who either: (a) are traveling to China soon, and are grateful for some information on what to expect, and (b) are actually quarantined as well or have family members that are quarantined.Hopefully the blog also sheds some light and demystifies the ominous prospect of “being held in quarantine by a communist government”. Of course the blog post was just as possible five years ago as well. But five years ago, I would have been writing, and maybe my wife and two other random people would have read it. But with twitter, and all my fellow geeks re-tweeting my articles, the posts have gone out much further than they ever would have five years ago. As a result, I did an interview with the LA Times about being quarantined. James Fallows writes a short blurb in his blog for The Atlantic. Adam Minter, a writer who has also written for The Atlantic, WSJ and other major publications, also gave a nod. Finally, my boy Larry Chiang re-posted my article in his BusinessWeek blog. And of course there’s something strangely gratifying about blogging about your mundane life to 1000 of your closest strangers.
Also, by tweeting about it, other people on twitter have found me and we’ve formed a mini-quarantine support group. Some are right here in the same building, some are in Shanghai or Macau. I’ve never met @froren, but apparently he’s one floor up from me, and I’ve been able to tell him how to order pizza and score beer.
So as I think back on these past five days, though utterly boring, they were made far more tolerable because of the age we live in (versus the previous age, you know, five years ago). People often poo poo on the notion of twitter, and how retarded 140 characters about “What are you doing?” can be. But I think the power of social media, and twitter specifically, is evidenced in its role in everything happening in Iran, and to a much more trivial extent my past week. Life in quarantine is a little richer and more enjoyable than it would have been five short years ago.
As the saying goes, “When life gives you lemons…you blog and tweet about it.”
**Update** been thinking about all this more throughout the day. It’s hard to imagine five years from now that we’ll look back at this and think how primitive it was and how much things have changed. But in the meantime, how cool is it to live in a time with so much change, and so many things left yet to be discovered? I’m leaving this quarantine more excited than ever that I get to work in web technology, and to think, no matter how mundane something such as “What are you doing?”, or a video of this kid starting a dance party is, we are changing the way we live our lives, and that’s pretty cool.