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Cognitive Covid

I contracted the Coronavirus. Well, not exactly. I don’t have the actual Coronavirus (yet), but I did have the Corona mind-virus. It took me about a month to get over this Cognitive Covid. Symptoms included a high intellectual fever, thoughts and dreams about the virus, shorting the S&P 500, stockpiling N95 masks, and making ArcGIS maps.

Covid-19 feels practically designed to ensnare infovores. It’s rapidly unfolding, important, involves data analysis, has unknowns, and importantly, is being underrated by the rest of the world. My job is to imagine how small things might get big. This is pure crack.

I don’t think I’m alone. A certain sense of responsibility comes with working remotely. There’s nobody staring at your screen over your shoulder, and it’s a bit too easy to slip into a day of researching ILINet, Chloroquine, and ArcGIS. This is a dangerous kind of faux-productivity, like email, because it feels right. I don’t think I could watch Netflix for a day. That just feels wrong. I could easily spend a day trying to identify the hospital in the US with the largest amount of unused ICU beds I’ll flee to when I start coughing.

To some extent, this work ought to be appreciated. In a world with increasingly confused media sources and a lackadaisical CDC, we need independent citizen-journalists to flag issues for us. If nobody took interest in this, it’d be bad. But there’s a correct dose-response curve for this hormone. It isn’t linear, and it’s too easy for me to over-indulge at the informational buffet of Covid-19. The clearest way our economy could collapse is if we all quit our jobs and spent our days fretting about a virus. Who knows, maybe that’s the answer to Fermi’s Paradox. Maybe the aliens are out there, just uninterested in finding us because they’re too busy thinking about Covid-19.

I don’t mean to brush off the pain and suffering of thousands around the world. Covid-19 might be the most awful event of the year, decade, or century. We don’t know. My point is there’s a balance to the amount of attention you give this thing. My goal is to focus on “useful thought”, one that is followed by action, as opposed to spinning in a mental centrifuge.