The Power of Contagion Theo Goldberg

Throughout this class, we have explored contagion and contagious narratives in many way, shape, or form and in this journal, I will explore several topics such as 1) what might have been, 2) loneliness during the pandemic, 3) the magic of music to survive during a global pandemic, 4) three contagions that I think of when reflecting on 2020, and finally, 5) some final remarks of the takeaways from this course.

What might have been....

In the video below, I explain how at I reach the end of my college years, the decision I will have to make about where to go next, where to live, where to work, who to spend my time with are both overwhelming and exciting.

Some perspective about time and how we can take control over our respective journeys

Some perspective about time and how we can take control over our respective journeys

Each square in the image above (on the left side) shows one week in a 90-year human life, with each row representing one year. Looking at this image helps me realize how quickly life goes by and how every single week, with no exception, and whatever happens or does not happen during a given week, we make progress in the timeline of our lives. And the train never stops.

In order to give more context, the graph illustrates the life of a typical American, with school, university, marriage, divorce, children, career, and retirement. These are the common variables to most American people and leaves us with freedom to decide how to fill the sections of the chart, if and what to study, where and how to work, who to live with, and how to make space for other things such as arts and culture, passion project. The charts also remind me of the opportunity cost of pivoting and changing career, or school or life partner.

This is the timeline of our lives, but another interesting schedule to look at is the timeline of the world: evolution of technology, culture, population growth, trends, and so much more. How does changes in one timeline affects the other. Events like world wars, economic recessions, pandemics. These events have an impact on the world timeline, accelerating trends good and bad (See second image for e-commerce example where 10 years of growth happened in 10 weeks due to the forced shift to remote work, remote shopping, remote groceries, and remote life), but also affecting life timelines with events such as death, illness, layoffs.

The Loneliness Pandemic

The Loneliness Pandemic, JACOB SWEET

Throughout this class, I have developed a deep understanding of pandemics and how to process, assess and adapt to them. Looking at the issue of Loneliness, a mental health crisis that has taken a toll on our societies, one might assume that the covid-19 pandemic has made things worse, forcing each and every one of us into involuntary isolation and quarantining. This assumption is correct, but I think using this new understanding of pandemic and contagion narratives has allowed me to see the positive, understand what is in my control and where I can take action to improve the situation. The article "The Loneliness Pandemic" by Jacob Sweet explores this idea and there are two quotes that especially resonated with me"

"But COVID-19 presents obvious reasons for people to feel lonely—involuntary isolation, quarantining—“So what’s different about this loneliness is it actually has the potential to be unifying.”"

This idea is further developed further in the article, with this quote:

"“I think the stigma of loneliness can change radically right now,” Nobel says. “We’re lonely now not because someone might not like us, or we might get rejected….We’re lonely because we’re forced to take very specific actions in response to a common enemy.” And when the reasons for loneliness are clear, the answers may come more easily, too."

I found this extremely interesting because when looking at the covid-19 from this angle, one can see that since all on us have suffered from loneliness, it has become easier to talk about it, and bring it up with family, friends and closed one, therefore making it easier for people who were suffering from loneliness pre-covid to be better equipped to take control and reverse the narrative into a positive contagion.

This is a great example of how in every conflict, pandemic, there is also a positive contagion that can be developed and turned into a virtuous cycle. Looking at the Covid-19 pandemic for instance. Despite the hundreds of million of cases and the millions of deaths, there has also been a positive contagion of unprecedented scientific collaboration on a global scale, which has led to the creation of not one but multiple covid-19 vaccines in record time (see photo grid below). Humans are a collaborative species and when faced with adversity, in the right setting, we will most of the time not only survive but thrive. What is important is to recognize the mistakes that were made and move forward.

Zoom birthday

The early months of the pandemic were very strange, My sister and I joined my cousins in Long Island, NY for the first few months of the pandemic. Because of the chaos, and confusion, my family started to have weekly zoom meetings and we would find any excuse, birthday, life update, new girlfriend, etc to go ahead and hang-out in zoom. Although this has been very positive and has allowed me to stay connected with my family, it was at many points a little bit too much. I went from being on my own in college and reconnecting with my family twice a year during summer and winter break to seeing everyone, every week. After three month, I eventually left to meet my girlfriend in Connecticut and spent the rest of the summer with her, which felt like a liberation and I was able to finally get back to my life. Family is so important and family relationships have to be nurtured and cherished, but these first three month of quarantine made me realize how important it is to set some boundaries, it order to maintain a healthy relationship with our family.

Once all of us are sufficiently vaccinated, I am most looking forward to going out and meeting new people. Perhaps the thing that I have missed the most is meeting strangers, and one of my favorite way to meet strangers is when I go out with friends and meet people either in the line before entering the venue, or inside the club or and sometime joining strangers in after-parties. I cannot wait to be able to meet strangers and make new friends.

Pandemic Playlist

For my pandemic playlist, I looked at the songs I listened the most in 2020, and selected and reflected on five of them. Enjoy!

The first song I picked is "Territory" from The Blaze. This song reminds me when I used to go to outdoor music festivals back home in France. These festivals would last for days and the Blaze would usually play at the end of the night with the sun slowly rising behind the stage. I listen to this song to relive this experience, dancing in the middle of a crowd of strangers, meeting new people, being fully alive, present and truly in the moment. Furthermore, this song is about an emotional and complicated homecoming.

"We've waited for this day
We shed some tears of love now
Like a desert in the rain
When some of the dead are waking up, mmmh yeah
There's nobody like my mom
There's no place like my home since I was born
When I was young
The flavor is so strong
I've missed it so long"

This tell my narrative of the past year, unable to travel back to France to see my family, friends and closed ones. Unable to be there when my grandparents contracted covid-19, and finally, a complicated homecoming when I finally got home in December, only to realized I had contracted the virus and was therefore forced to self-quarantine in my room for 14 days.

The second song I would like to choose for my pandemic playlist is "Dancing in the Moonlight" by King Harvest. This song was written by Sherman Kelly after his was violently attacked by a gang in St. Croix. Kelly suffered multiple facial fractures and and wounds and was left for dead. Kelly wrote the song during his recovery, envisioning an alternative reality "the dream of a peaceful and joyful celebration of life". One can related to this feeling when listening to the chorus:

"Dancing in the moonlight
Everybody's feeling warm and bright
It's such a fine and natural sight
Everybody's dancing in the moonlight"

I listened to this song many times during 2020, mostly as a way to escape the reality, the isolation, the quarantine, and the daily metrics of new cases and deaths.

The third song I picked for this pandemic playlist is "Circles" by Mac Miller. This song is the first song of the posthumous album. In the song, Mac speaks about the directionless feeling, and how it feels like he is going in circles, and is unable to get out of these circles. This ideas is illustrated in the following lyrics:

"Well, this is what it look like right before you fall
Stumblin' around, you've been guessing your direction
Next step, you can't see at all".

This song was the perfect illustration for mid April for me, when I had tried online, classes, started running, tried myself at baking, and established a fragile temporary routine. I had a feeling that we were not going to go back to normal at least for a year, but my 16 years old cousin Nathan was convinced that I was just being paranoid and that things were going to go back to normal very soon. He was planning a big birthday party with all his friends in NY in July. When we all realized that nothing was going to get better anytime soon I remember listening to this song and reflecting of my year, trying to understand what the second part of 2020 would look like.

The fourth song I picked for my pandemic playlist is "The Logical Song" by Supertramp. This song was one of my favorite song to listen to during the pandemic, especially in the early days in March when it felt like covid-19 had stopped time and frozen all of us in this state of isolation and quarantining. Like most people, this was a good time to reflect on the meaning of life and our roles as individuals. One of the song authors, Roger Hodgson explains: "The song was born out of my questions about what really mattered in life. Throughout childhood we’re taught how to behave, yet we’re very rarely told anything about the deeper purpose of life. We go from the innocence and wonder of childhood to the confusion of adolescence, and that often ends up in disillusionment in adulthood. And many of us spend our lives trying to get back to that innocence.". The following chorus perfectly explores these feelings:

"There are times when all the world's asleep
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man
Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned?
I know it sounds absurd
But please, tell me who I am"

The fifth and last song I picked for this pandemic playlist is "Five Years" by David Bowie. This song help me go through the quarantining and isolation, as it is about "the panic that accompanies news of Earth's imminent demise". In the following lyrics, Bowie reflects on all the people that he has to live without, and how although completely strangers, he desperately needs them to stay sane.

"And all the fat, skinny people
And all the tall, short people
And all the nobody people
And all the somebody people
I never thought I'd need so many people"

The contagious ideas in the midst of Covid-19

One fortunate phenomenon that caught on this past year that I have already spoken about in my journals but deserves all the attention is global scientific collaboration. Indeed scientists from all around the world came together to collaborate and accelerate the pace at which a vaccine could be developed, approved and manufactured. About 75,000 scientific papers on the topic of Covid-19 were published between January and November 2020. 25% of the papers published by the US and China were co-authored with scientists from other countries. the largest collaboration happened between the Us and China. In addition, more than 75% of these papers were published with open access and all paywalls were removed.

In addition to the positive contagion that was the scientific collaboration during 2020, there was also an unprecedented collaboration by the private sector in clinical trials. However we need to make sure this 2020 unprecedented collaborated is here to stay and I hope that the global scientific communty

Photography class on zoom

One idea that caught on during this past year that I wish hadn't is remote life. Not only remote work, but remote school, remote family and pretty much remote everything. Although this has allowed us to function during 2020 and to remain connected to our closed one, I deeply miss in-person interactions, and although most of them will come back as the population gets vaccinated and we turn the page on Covid-19, many remote aspects of our lives are here to stay. The majority of company are switching to remote work and universities are adopting hybrid learning models. I see the benefits both of these example: more time with family and closed ones for remote work and more access to education and cheaper access to education for remote school. However, the repercussions of remote environments have to be considered. With remote work, many of my friend who graduated in 2020 and have been working remote complain that work has become very transactional, going from one zoom meeting to another and two of my friends actually quit their jobs because they weren't connecting with their coworkers. For people with spouses and children, remote work is a blessing, but for most people in their twenties, work used to be a the new social structure that followed school, a place to make new friends, and potentially meet one's significant other. With younger generation already struggling with social interaction due to the overwhelming digitalization of our lives (multiple hours per day spent on instagram and TikTok), the thought of shifting school and work to a screen is very frightening to me.

Finally, a movement that has not yet caught on or gone viral but that I hope will in the coming years is affordable quality education for all. Indeed, education today is similar if not identical to education in 100 years ago. There is a classroom of students, a professor who lectures the class and exams throughout the terms. This is how knowledge has been transferred for as long as we can remember. Besides switching most textbooks for laptops, nothing else has changed. (See grid below)

early 1800s (top left) - 1910 (top right) - 1950 (bottom left) - present day (bottom right)

However, in the past decade, new learning models have been experimented with levering the progress of our technologies. For instance, Massive open online course (MOOCs) such as Coursera, Edex, or Udemy have enable anyone with an internet connection to access the best courses and professors for free and get a certificate of completion for around $50. However, these certifications were not recognized by the workforce. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this shift, and now these models are growing in popularity and many universities will soon offer accelerated online degrees for a fraction of the price. Other technological innovations have enabled an enhanced in-class experience. For instance, we have been using Kritik.io, which allows for peer evaluation, enabling students not only to reed the work of their peers but also to learn how to evaluate it and develop skills in providing feedback. Although this trend has not fully caught on yet, I am hopeful about what this will bring in the future.

Takeaways from the course

1. Gaining perspective

Throughout the class, we have studied pandemic and social contagions, positive and negative in all sizes, shapes and forms. Looking at the past helped me grain critical perspective: 1) this is not new, 2) it has happened in the past, and 3) it will most likely happen again. I think was made the covid-19 take such an important pace in our daily lives has to do the the combined power of transportation and information technology. Because we live in such as global interconnected world, every day millions of people travel internationally, all around the globe, which had made it easier and faster than ever to transmit contagions. Coupled with this information technologies have enable us to access 24/7 live information about the cases and death toll in china, south Africa, Russia or anywhere on the planet. During Camus's the plague, which takes place in early 20th century, no-one know what was going on in another country or continent, which gave people hope that the pandemic will eventually leave the town and that is was a temporary event. I think this class gave me more perspective on how technologies have a positive and negative impact on both our physical and mental health.

2. The power of positive contagions

Before taking this course, I could only relate to contagion or contagious narratives with negative events, especially with the very real-life example of covid-19. However, this class help me realize that contagion can be both negative and positive, and that positive contagions could be analyzed and therefore replicated. the global scale scientific collaboration, the collaboration between small businesses, the unprecedented about of funds donated to support causes around social issues: all of these are example of positive contagious ideas that have the same operating systems as a negative contagion. This is a very powerful insight that I will take away from this course and will remember next month, next year, or even ten years from now.

3. How to be resilient

All of us have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, one way or another, and this course has taught me a lot about resilience and what steps can be taken in order to process what is going on, while maintaining sanity. What was most helpful for me was these semi-weekly conversation we were having about any and all sorts of contagions. Hearing the perspective of my classmates made me realize that I wasn't alone, and that were all shared similar feelings and experiences. In addition, through the assigned readings, films, documentaries and articles we read, I gained a much deeper understanding on pandemics and social contagion, which helped me develop a better framework to not only better understand, but approach various aspect of this "new normal" that we all have to live in. I am now graduating from college better equipped to handle issues around mental health, understanding various perspectives, and the multi-layered complexity of various issues, for am very thankful for this.