I’ve already added this Anita Schillhorn van Veen edition of the Why is this interesting? newsletter to my link log but I feel like these two paragraphs comparing today with the era of the Spanish flu are worth specifically highlighting.
With little collective historical memory of the Spanish flu, it’s no wonder we experience this moment as unique and unprecedented. It’s as if we have never been through this type of global trauma before. Laura Spinney writes , “The Spanish flu is remembered personally, not collectively. Not as a historical disaster, but as millions of discrete, private tragedies.” Not only was the pandemic overshadowed by war, but the very nature of quarantine and illness is also of isolation, and there were few avenues for people to connect and create an aggregate experience.
And so one can’t help but wonder which path our historical memory will take this time. In contrast to 1918, we have countless ways to connect with each other in quarantine and document what we’re going through, and we’re not in the midst of world war. While there’s no denying the radical shifts in technology that allow us to capture this moment, you also don’t have to look back more than a few years, or even months, to see how easily we move on from momentous news cycles.
I find that I wonder if anyone is looking at—or maybe this is something for later—comparing the “aggregate experience” of the coronavirus pandemic with that of 9/11, which was the first major world event of the blogging era, an so in many ways also the first “aggregate experience” of the web itself.