Screen showing an online game

I am writing this article in what we presume to be the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone is scared. There aren’t many people outside, gas prices are very low, and people are panic-buying groceries. Unless you are reading this in some archive in the future, this is no news to you. It feels like something out of a near-future sci-fi movie, and that is exactly the problem.

If we apply even the most haphazard historic perspective, we will see that nearly every decade had its own apocalypse of choice to obsess over. During the span of the Cold War, Americans (and Russians) were terrified that one of the many proxy conflicts between the USA and USSR would cascade into World War III. In the start of the AIDS Epidemic, many feared they could get AIDS from public toilets or swimming pools. After September 11, 2001, some Americans became convinced that Islamic fundamentalists would soon be attempting to enforce sharia law throughout the Midwest. In each of these cases, truly horrible things did happen, and lives were lost. However, none of them resulted in the End of the World. Because the world cannot end! No matter what happens to humanity, there will be survivors. Only the explosion of the Sun will truly destroy our planet, and that is 5 billion years off.

The idea of an apocalypse is a narrative device, and a lazy one at that. Instead of imagining a novel social situation brought on by high technology, or imagining fantastical worlds on the edge of the galaxy, lazy writers have simply leaned in to the thing that we all fear most, that we all are going to die. There certainly are some beautiful pieces of media based in post-apocalyptic settings (For example, Mathus’ The Road or Orwell’sWar of the Worlds.) However, the obsession with Apocalypticism has come to completely dominate our vision of what the future can be. We used to be a society that dreamed of exploring the far edges of the galaxy and setting up colonies on the bottom of the ocean. Now all we can obsess over is our own collective mortality. This state of affairs is not only boring, it does nothing to help us face our current crisis.  

Post-apocalyptic stories of solitary individuals wandering blasted wastelands will not get us through COVID-19. Even though social distancing is our best chance of avoiding the virus, humans need other humans to survive. This fact is not only obvious (Even the best gardener cannot grow all they need in an urban setting), it is well documented in the social sciences. Solitary confinement has been definitively proven by psychologists to be torture. Babies rely on interaction with adults to thrive.

If we can’t build community in-person, then we have to do it online.  None of us will remain mentally and socially healthy if we socially isolate ourselves. Now is the time for us to take full advantage of our online means of communication. Now is the time to lean into whatever social media platform works for you. Arguments that we need to “get off our phones,” simply do not hold up when it is dangerous to connect face-to-face. There is nothing wrong with texting your friends when you are trapped in your apartment. If it makes you feel better, there is nothing wrong with looking at pictures of far-away beaches after you have been forced to cancel your vacation. Survival is the key word, and we need to do whatever we can to do that. 

So, if watching documentaries on the pandemics of the past on Netflix actually makes you feel better, I guess you should do that. However, for most of us, that kind of media will only make things seem worse. At this moment, we need a vision for a brighter future and community. Whatever you can do for yourself to build those things should be embraced. Whatever detracts from that needs to be ignored.

Resources for Facing COVID-19

Here are some resources you can use during the pandemic to either fight off boredom or connect with other people:

  • edX:
    Now is the time to take a class online. Many classes on edX are free, and many of those classes allow you to interact with other people taking the course.
  • Transparency Note: I am an editor for Optopia, but it is a really great publication!
  • Don’t cancel your D&D game, play it from home!

Jeremy is a college lecturer and is on the Board of the Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism. He is teaching online for the University of New Mexico, The Ohio State University, Otterbein University, and The Cleveland School of Cannabis (but his views are his and his alone.) More information about his projects can be found at