One of the most insightful comments I’ve seen about the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic points out that we’re in a state of narrative collapse. Our societal stories, the tales we tell ourselves to make sense of the world and even how to navigate it, have failed us. We’re all reaching out to family and friends like never before to learn how they’re holding up, how they’ve chosen or been forced to deal, if they’re going to be OK. Events are changing too fast for anyone to gain a firm footing, and while the uncertainty horizon is slowly increasing, we can still really only forecast that next week will probably be like this week. Next month—who knows?
But there is one thing I can predict with near certainty, which is that we’ll publish an issue of TidBITS for you today. We’ll do it again next Monday, and the Monday after that, and every Monday for the foreseeable future. That’s what we’ve done for 30 years now, as of this Thursday, 16 April 2020.
It’s a record that is nearly unparalleled on the Internet. When we published the first issue of TidBITS on 16 April 1990, we weren’t the first Internet publication, and we’re centuries away from being the oldest publication now on the Internet (internationally, that honor goes to the Post- och Inrikes Tidningar in Sweden, founded in 1645, and in the US, to the Hartford Courant, founded in 1764). But for eAIR, an academic journal published on the Internet since 1987, TidBITS would be the oldest Internet-only publication. As it is, we have to settle for second place or add a qualifier, like “oldest technology publication.” To quote a famous Cornellian of yesteryear, Kurt Vonnegut, “So it goes.”
But no. Applying Vonnegut’s fatalist statement to our runner-up status trivializes his words. “So it goes” might be better used as a stoic block with which to start rebuilding our shared narrative. Vonnegut reportedly deflected questions about whether Dresden should have been bombed in World War II. Instead, he said, it had been bombed, and the question was how one should behave after that. COVID-19 has happened—is happening—and all we can do is accept that fact and choose how we behave in response.
We’re choosing to stay the course. To keep publishing TidBITS and to keep it as some small semblance of normality in a world where we talk seriously of “narrative collapse” and “uncertainty horizons.” And I don’t mean as part of some “new normal” that shifts in the winds of the news cycle, but as something with 30 years of history behind it, week in and week out.
I won’t pretend that we don’t face challenges as well. We’ve already seen TidBITS members canceling their subscriptions to reduce expenses in the face of job losses. I don’t blame them one bit—paying bills is more important—but at a time when TidBITS membership revenues were already down 8% from last year, all I can say is that we too would appreciate your help at this time. We have a variety of membership benefits for those who join the TidBITS membership program.
For those of you who are already members, thank you! We’ve often gotten questions about how to make additional, out-of-cycle donations, and to answer that request, we’ve added a Boost TidBITS button to the bottom of the membership levels page that accepts donations via our PayPal account.
I have no doubt that the world will emerge from this crisis, and we hope you’ll ride it out with us.