Living in the Real World

Nearly 11 months ago, my world pretty much went home for the duration due to the Great Pandemic. (And what’s so great about it?) As you might imagine, it’s been a pretty quiet place.

Well, except for the virtual theater rehearsals.

And the online choir I just joined.

And the streaming concerts that get Missy so excited.

And being invited to join my church’s vestry this week.

And, and, and, and …

Ok. Weird paradox. I barely leave my house these days. And I’m busier than I’ve ever been. Not just work busy, but life busy.

Somewhere, Clifford Stoll is probably shaking his head in amusement at himself. Again.

Don’t remember Stoll? He had a brief national spotlight in the 1980s after tracking a 75-cent accounting error at the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory all the way to an East German hacker selling information to Soviet spies. (If you’re curious, that adventure is recounted in a book called The Cuckoo’s Egg.)  In the ‘90s, he again drew national attention with his assertions – first in a magazine article, and then a book called Silicon Snake Oil – that this brave new online world wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and could never live up to what had been promised.

Now there’s a lot that Stoll actually got right. He argued that online education would be easier to promote than to achieve. He noted that as more voices came online, the strength AND weakness of the internet would be that “all voices are heard” – including those of the deceptive, the ill-informed, and the malicious.

But what gets remembered – as we seem to do with any of us, alas – are the misses. The prediction that e-commerce would never get off the ground. That no online database could ever replace the daily newspaper. And that computers, of necessity, would always be a medium of isolation rather than community.


“Wrong? Yep,” Stoll commented publicly 15 years later, adding that “Now, whenever I think I know what’s happening, I temper my thoughts: Might be wrong, Cliff …”

The internet is certainly not a utopia, to be sure. It holds our best and our worst. After all, it was made by humans.

But that’s just it. It is a human world.

We’ve found ways to share our laughter and our anger. We argue and we comfort. We can come together in ways that are radically disturbing or utterly heartwarming.

And yes, we even find ways to sing in choirs and make best friends that we’ve never met in person.

Forget the “virtual” moniker. This is as much a part of the “real world” as any. And if we’ve kept any sanity in the wake of an upside-down year, the outlet this provides may be one big reason why.

We’re still together. Even apart.

I’m not going to argue that it’s perfect. Too many have poor access or no access at all, and that needs to be addressed. And there are still things that I want to do when the pandemic walls come down – perform live theater again, hug a friend, send Missy off on a Friday night out with her friends without worry.

But right here, right now, for all its flaws – this is a world worth having. One that’s let a lot of us keep friends close and possibilities closer. (Even while staying beyond six feet.)

I hope those possibilities live on after the crisis is over. That we continue to realize how strong our connections to each other can be, even when tested.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get ready for choir practice.