March 22, 2020

Distance learning

I've been living in Hong Kong a year now and it's been a very strange experience living through the New York City Covid-19 breakout abroad. The experience that Hong Kong is going through seems so vastly different from what is happening in New York, where I grew up and spent my entire career. I'm trying to keep up with both—as well as with all the cities where my company has offices throughout Asia. In this particular situation, I'm not sure knowledge is power, and for better or for worse, I can't get enough of the news, maybe it's my newspaper background and decade in quick-hit digital news bites, I don't know what I'd do without the internet right now.

One of the most interesting platforms I've been engaging with NYC Covid-19 information on is podcasts. Different digital distribution platforms seem to poke at different parts of my brain: reading websites of traditional news outlets provide up-to-date clinical information and data; social media, both words and pictures—words on Twitter, pictures and quick-snips on Instagram and Instagram Stories—give me the personal takes and emotional check-ins I crave with friends and former coworkers I want to see are OK and from whom I want to see, read, and hear reactions to things. And podcasts, wow, podcasts are a whole new thing. Have podcasts been around in other times of national crises?

I find myself having very strong emotional reactions to podcasts about Covid-19 in New York City. I listen to the New York Times' The Daily podcast most days; that on top of my usual lineup of Tim Ferriss, Ezra Klein, Pod Save America, Brian Koppelman, Joe Rogan. Everyone is talking about the virus. Nobody knows for sure what happens next. And there's something about audio storytelling and the very specific mix of information, personal narrative, and immersive sense of place through sound that is so powerful, and something about the pace of a let's-talk-this-through hour, hour-and-a-half, two-hour conversation that feels particularly suited to this slow-rolling, epic, unfurling tragedy.