Returning to normal, face masks and release notes

Tech will save us, supply chains will save us, vaccines will save us.

Turn on the news or dial in to an all-staff meeting and you’ll hear talk of “returning to normal”. Resuming, restarting, emerging, like a bear from hibernation, crawling out of our home offices, yawning, stretching and looking for toilet roll and soap.

This seems like good news: we have beaten this disease, our sacrifices and discipline have saved lives and allowed us to continue living. But it seems premature: People are still dying, cases are still increasing. Have we really beaten this disease? Returning to normal is more economics than science. We need to sacrifice the most vulnerable in society on the alter of profit, and we’d all be outraged by this had the news cycle not got tired of the story. It’s a depressing reality that literally 100 years on from the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic we seem to have learnt nothing and are going to repeat history almost exactly.

I went to the supermarket last week, and it was as if coronavirus had never happened. There were floor markings, but no one was actually following them. A sign at the self-service checkout told me to step back if I needed help from a member of staff. But the staff were ignoring these, too busy and too bored of the precautions to keep taking them. The pexiglass screens and dystopic warning posters have become part of the furniture.

Coronavirus, meanwhile, has managed to spread not just from person to person but into all facets of life. I am struck by the weird influence it’s had on technology: Apple have created a masked Memoji and added mask support (sort of) for FaceID. I’ve written more about this in OneZero this week:

It is in this environment that tech companies claim to be our saviors. They deliver our food, provide our supplies, allow us to continue working, entertain us, protect us from misinformation, rebuild the economy, protect democracy, and even give us permission to wipe our own devices with our own disinfectant wipes. We give the essential workers a clap, but we give the tech companies our money.


Paul Ford is always good value and he has a monthly column in Wired now (like mine, I think his publication schedule has been a victim of Coronavirus recently.) But last week he had an article about supply chains from the July/August issue. (Print magazine article article dates are weird.) I always love articles about silent (and possibly even boring) topics. It’s amazing how much of our lives are influenced by invisible concepts.

Supply chain worship is in many ways a modern religion. The best evidence of this is unboxing videos, the sacred communion between the humble individual box opener and the higher powers of manufacturing.

The New York Times has a Coronavirus vaccine tracker page. And they’ve committed to it, not just a one off. They keep it updated with the current status of all trials. One has vaccine is already approved for limited use in China.

Something slightly different, in a meditative 9 minute radio essay, Rebecca Stott reflects on how lockdown has forced us all into a state of waiting.

That is all from me. Take care this week.