Larry Magid: Silver linings on dark COVID-19 cloud

Larry Magid: Silver linings on dark COVID-19 cloud

Even though we are living through a trying and tragic time, many of us are trying to remain positive. I’m generally optimistic but admit there are times when I’m anxious or even depressed about what many are going through right now. Still, there are some silver linings on this very dark cloud that hovers over everyone in the world.

Larry Magid 

For starters, I admit that I’m a bit confused by the term “social distance.” Does that mean we’re not supposed to be as socially close or does it mean the opposite — that we remain social, but at a physical distance?  I vote for option two. During this period, I’ve been in touch with more people than usual, mostly via Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype and other online video services. The book group my wife and I are in meets regularly and the conversations are just as interesting as when we’re in person. We also have regular “game nights” and video conversations with our adult children.

Our son, Will Magid, is a professional musician and my wife and I have long enjoyed going to his live concerts, most of which required that we drive to San Francisco or Oakland, find a parking spot and stay up very late since he often performed until 1 a.m. Now we attend his weekly “Dance Party” via Zoom where he and fellow musicians perform from their homes. My laptop has an HDMI port so I’m connecting it to our 65-inch TV so that even though other attendees show up in little boxes on a grid, we can still see them as we hear the music through the TV’s sound bar.

Being isolated at home is also affecting relationships and families in both good and bad ways. During a recent webcast, Erica Pelavin, an adolescent psychologist and co-founder of the non-profit My Digital Tat2, observed that the teens she works with say they’re “having deeper conversations with people,” including their peers from school. “But they’re also having deep conversations with family members online and spending more time with siblings who are away.”

Pelvan observed that typical family screen time conversations have turned upside down. Normally, it’s parents who tell the kids to put away their devices, but now parents are insisting their kids study and socialize online while kids are increasingly anxious to be together with people. Many are anxious to get back to school. And kids were, in many ways, more prepared than their parents when it came to adapting to home isolation. Most of them were already socializing online and using various types of video chat services which, for many adults, was unfamiliar territory.

Pelavin also observed that some teens “feel a relief from shelter in place, (for some) it’s a relief to not go and have to do all these things at school and have to say no to things that are hard. They’re not so focused on being jammed in with social activities, and so they’re having times to really learn about their parents.”


I take a lot of walks around my neighborhood. Often I come across people who are on their phones or listening to music, typically through wireless earbuds. But many are walking either by themselves, with partners or as families. When I see people walking towards me, I usually cross the street to maintain a safe distance, but almost always wave or say hello. Sometimes we have real conversations from several feet away with neighbors we had never spoken with before or barely know. My only complaint is that a few people have come up to me from behind while either running of cycling, without moving far enough away. If I see them coming, I can move, but if they’re coming from behind, it’s up to them to maintain a safe distance.

I’m also spending a bit more time using the Nextdoor app and website, which links people who live near each other. People are offering to help out their neighbors with grocery shopping and chores. I have received offers from people I’ve never met. I haven’t had to take advantage of these offers, but I know some seniors in my neighborhood who have had groceries delivered by neighbors they only know from Nextdoor. One person in my neighborhood said they needed empty grocery bags and, since I had a stash of them, I used the service to arrange for her to pick them up from in front of my house.

Working from home

I’ve been working from home for decades. Years ago, CBS News sent me the equipment I needed to establish a home radio studio and my non-profit, ConnectSafely, has long used services like Google Docs and Dropbox to enable our small staff to share documents. Google Docs even lets us work on the same documents at the same time.  But now millions of people are working from home and both they and their employers are discovering that it can actually be more efficient than going to an office. It’s not for everyone. Some people are itching to get back to their workplaces, but many are finding it preferable than commuting to work.  Even TV networks are finding that having people on-air remotely is almost as good as having them in-studio. I’ve spent a lot of time driving to remote TV studios for interviews and am hoping this trend continues after the COVID-19 crisis is over.

For some companies and employees, the mandatory isolation has proved that working from home might be a good idea, even after the crisis is over. In a blog post, Twitter said that “We were uniquely positioned to respond quickly and allow folks to work from home … so if our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen.”

Not all are so lucky

I admit that I’m one of the fortunate ones who gets to continue to work during this crisis. Sadly, millions of people have lost their jobs and many essential workers are having to risk their lives to continue to earn a living and serve others. Whether they’re preparing or delivering meals or delivering health care, these workers — who can’t work from home — are our heroes. And those who have lost their jobs are going through some very hard times, both financially and psychologically.

Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.

Published at Thu, 14 May 2020 14:00:48 +0000