Living Online in the Age of COVID-19

Story and photo by Marlene Wandel

Snowflakes are drifting past the window, trying to say winter is here. Finlanders say winter only comes when the lilacs drop their leaves; either way, patio season is probably over, even for us hardy northerners. Patios and beautiful weather made this COVID summer tolerable—Thunder Bay got the chance to shine, finally breaking down some of the barriers that kept diners from spilling out onto the streets. But these fluffy white harbingers of doom are a sure sign we are all about to be herded back inside, with COVID leaning on the door to keep us in our respective homes, connected to each other only by our internet umbilicus. Socially and professionally, we are more and more living online.  

It’s hard to come up with a convincing argument that things are better this way—my usual glass-half-full kind of stance has been downgraded to a solid meh. I appreciate that we have all this technology, but it is starting to feel a little oppressive. The screen time argument in every house has gone out the window: we can’t afford to threaten to throw the devices out the literal window anymore, because the kids need them for school, and sports team meetings, and to connect with friends as dropping temperatures and social gathering limits lurk on the horizon again. It is helpful to have the option to school kids remotely—online school is likely better than no school—but it seems to reinforce the increasingly strongly held belief that life is conducted via a touch screen, with headphones on.

In this small city, commuting has never been a big part of the conversation, except the inexplicably terrible timing of the traffic lights. Strangely, now we talk about the commute in nostalgic terms. My spouse lamented in the spring that he missed riding up the Dufferin Street hill every day (a sure sign working from home was affecting his cognition). The corollary of not having to ever go to work, means never getting to leave work, either. Productivity has not suffered with working from home; as it turns out, work is work, whether we are shackled to the computer in an office or at the dining room table. It’s not all bad. The kitchen has all the snacks and the coffee is endless, but I miss the good old days of getting downtown to get coffee and running into five people on the way. Browsing digitally at the library is not the same as browsing the stacks, but at least now we can shop online and still shop local.

The coffee cups scattered around the house might be half empty, but they are plentiful, and that, for now, will have to be good enough.