HTR’s Reflection on COVID-19

Introduction

Hi everyone,

We know that the announcement on the morning of March 10th instructing us to leave campus shattered many of us. Over the past few weeks, we’ve all been adjusting to a new life of social distancing and virtual interaction to an extent we’ve never done in history. In that transition, I know that many of us have been managing a combination of isolation, disappointment, and fear; our hearts go out to all of you in these crazy times.

With that said, it is still our hope that throughout all this, we don’t forget what we’re excited about and still continue to do the things we love and enjoy doing. Technology, while still a long way from perfect, has given us a way to still connect, share ideas, and build things with one another virtually. Amidst the global chaos of today, it’s more important than ever to stay grounded in the people we care about and the things we love doing. 

Below are reflections from our executive team on COVID-19, and in our publication, you’ll find the broader work our writers have put together over the past few weeks. Now more than ever, we need smart, informed dialogue about tech, and we’ll be working hard over the next few weeks to deliver that through our publication. If you’d like to be a part of our work, please reach out to us. Thank you for reading, and we hope that you all stay safe and healthy.

Best,

Eshan and Ryan

Co-Presidents of the Harvard Technology Review


Isabella Aslarus – Editor in Chief

As students settle into the new reality of this semester, we’re still navigating how Harvard can maintain its commitment to education, research, and its community when that community has scattered across the globe. Far away from our classrooms, we’ll be challenged to learn in environments that are not designed for learning, without in-person access to libraries, study spaces, professors, and pset partners — and for some, without adequate Internet, income from campus jobs, and reliable housing or food. And we’ll be forced to accept a version of Harvard without Housing Day, Commencement, senior spring, and late-night talks with our closest friends — all the moments and milestones that have been postponed, canceled, or simply disappeared.

It’s important to remember why we’re doing this. Young and otherwise healthy adults are not immune to Covid-19, and even if you wouldn’t personally suffer from severe illness, you could come in contact with peers, professors, family, and strangers, endangering those at-risk. With students testing positive for Covid-19 as they return from Spring Break, we can already see the consequences of young adults ignoring the official guidance and scientific fact that social distancing works. We all have a responsibility to do our part to flatten the curve.

At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge the immense hardships — financial, educational, social, and emotional — that this responsibility brings. There are steps we can take to fight the loneliness and anxiety brought on by this pandemic. Make sure to meet your basic needs: hydrate, sleep enough, eat well, and exercise whenever possible. Create healthy schedules and routines. Stay (virtually) connected to friends and family, but disconnect from Covid-19 news. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out to the people in your support system or to resources like the CAMHS urgent care line. Remember that we’re all in this together, even when we’re half a world apart.

Sophie Collins Arroyo – Politics Editor

We don’t cope well with uncertainty. For weeks, scientists, researchers, and medical professionals across the world have been doing their best to find out everything they can about COVID-19. But we do not have all the information. The experts are working hard. They are qualified. They are determined. But they are still disagreeing—on the perfect plan of action, on when this will all be over, on what’s coming next. We have countless channels for sharing information. Are you using those channels to stay connected with the people you love? Or are you using those channels to share information? How confident are you in the accuracy of that information? Headlines can’t  paint a complete picture and neither can 280-character tweets. Spread love carelessly and information cautiously. We all want to know something; we want the stability of indisputable facts. But, speaking for myself, I don’t know anything, really. Except that it’s time to settle into the uncertainty. Time to get comfortable. We’re going to be here for a while. Let the professionals do their job. And do yours—stay home.

Hannah Cole – VP of Events

While social distancing practices prevent us from carrying on our normal social engagements with our local communities, they have provided a breeding ground for new forms of digital socialization. For us students, the Zoom Memes for Self-Quaranteens Facebook group and affiliated groups, formed around specific interests and identities, have provided an opportunity for college-aged youth from across the country to bond on an unprecedented scale as students of “Zoom University.” Likewise, new virtual choirs, religious groups, book clubs, and more have created connections between diverse people and communities who never would have had the opportunity to interact in person, which is leading to novel forms of creative expression and individual growth. Social media, for all its flaws, was designed to connect the world, and I am optimistic about the ways our society can creatively leverage these technologies to unify in the face of a common challenge.

Arjun Mirani – Science Fiction Editor

In a time of unprecedented social distancing, platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp are playing a crucial role in helping us stay connected to our loved ones. However, amidst widespread fear and uncertainty, false information spread through these platforms can have especially damaging effects. An internal report by the EU recently accused pro-Kremlin media outlets of a disinformation campaign intended to exacerbate panic in Western populations. Conspiracy theories and misinformation about the origins of the novel coronavirus have led to blatant, event violent racism against Asian-Americans. Unfortunately, albeit unsurprisingly, information from President Trump himself can be dubious as well. At a White House briefing on Friday (as well his Twitter feed), Trump continued to promote certain drugs as promising cures for COVID-19, despite the fact that they are still undergoing clinical trials and their efficacy remains unproven. While Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other tech companies are actively trying to combat false coronavirus-related information on their platforms, we can join the battle as individuals by relying only on expert information (sources like WHO and CDC), being extra vigilant about the information we share with others, and staying humane in this frenzied time.

Eshan Tewari – Co-President

We are in the midst of one of the greatest work from home experiments in history. My daily routine has shifted from one that involved running around a college campus to get to classes, meetings, and social gatherings in time to one in which I move from one place in my home to another, taking occasional breaks to go for a walk, exercise, or get food. Pragmatically, this should make me quite a bit more efficient — I can be in one place for most of the day and hop on and off Zoom calls for all I need to do, whether it be work related or social. Why, then, do I among so many other students still long to be back on campus, and why do I still find myself being less productive?

While Zoom has given us a remarkable way to connect with one another in the midst of this craziness, physical spaces and physical interactions are essential to maintaining happiness, motivation, and creativity. In spite of the pragmatic efficiencies, the productivity and well-being of students will plummet over the course of the semester unless we think harder about how to interact virtually. And no, I’m not talking about Zoom rooms for dining hall conversations or Zoom study breaks — those are a start, but without replicating physical spaces, not much will change. 

We have technology beyond Zoom that allows us to re-create or interact with one another in virtual spaces that we can build, navigate and move around together — Second Life and Minecraft are just a few (in fact, Harvard at one point even had a presence on Second Life). Times are unprecedented and there are good reasons why we can’t return to campus, but we cannot stop at Zoom; we must think about other ways we can recreate physical spaces in virtual environments.

Ryan Kim – Co-President

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is comparable to only a few events in history. From an American perspective, we can compare this to 9/11 or the 2008 financial crisis. Such events foundationally changed the way people live and interact. Similarly, COVID-19 will undeniably alter our current methods of business and livelihood. A grim future is underway for the global economy with the onset of a recession and unemployment beginning to spike. 

As students, we’ll be graduating in the wake of this economic turmoil and it’s easy to silo ourselves into a defeatist mindset. Nonetheless, I’d like to emphasize the resiliency of humanity and how we’ve continuously overcome each novel form of crisis. We witness this strength at the frontline of this crisis: every delivery worker, grocery employee, healthcare professional, first responder, and more. The collective buy-in to social distancing and protecting the elders within our communities. So instead, consider the alternative perspective. This phase of crisis rather offers an opportunity to identify the newfound cracks within the global infrastructure and intelligently innovate new technological solutions. 

Let’s come together. Ideate, design, and build. Share our strengths gained from our respective educational niches to help shape the future of our world. Collaborate to improve our government, healthcare, economy, and culture through this time of crisis. 

Timothy Im – Creative Director

While it is no surprise that our daily lives were on a seemingly unstoppable trajectory to becoming fully digitized, the ongoing coronavirus epidemic appears to have catalyzed this radical transition. Retail industries are turning to delivery platforms in order to retain a semblance of normal business, college campuses have replaced their lecterns with virtual backgrounds and online memes, our relationships and friendships have transformed into group messages, houseparty calls, and Instagram stories. The ongoing narrative today amidst all of this is one that touts the benefits of being hyperconnected via technology, conveniently always located at the reach of our fingertips. In order to combat the overwhelming uncertainty and isolation that this disease threatens to deliver onto our daily lives, we have been told to reach out and to connect, which in turn, has translated to spending inordinate amounts of times on our phones and social media platforms, increasingly extracting ourselves from “reality” into one mediated by the digital world. While these forms of connection have certainly demonstrated their merits amongst the global turmoil, as critical pieces of information regarding our health and safety find their homes on the internet, perhaps this is also an opportunistic time to consider a life away from the screens. In these moments of isolation, it has been refreshing to further extricate myself from the pandemonium scaling across these omnipresent screens, headlines, and digital platforms. Experiencing a daily life unencumbered by the constant need to share and consume, whether it be with a book, with family, or simply in nature has been, needless to say, refreshing. What the coronavirus has taught me is that, for better or worse, our lives are inextricably connected to technology. But it is up to us to decide how to leverage these digital connections to their fullest instead of letting them consume every facet of our daily lives. I’m not trying to propose a Luddite-like primitivism. I’m just saying that we have the choice to not fully be machines, for now.

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