In the words of every news station, media outlet, mother, mother-in-law, teenager, tween, favorite hairdresser, TikTok, political leader, and probably even one particularly astute parrot: It's Corona time.
There is widespread suffering taking place in our world right now. From personal tragedy, to acute business hardships, to general worry and anxiety, the situation is not one that deserves to be made light of in any way, shape, or form.
But we're about to do it. Just a little. Why?
Scientifically, when you laugh, you release endorphins. Laughter, funnily enough, increases our resilience. In the face of extreme stress, laughter was proven to reduce levels of cortisol, lower our blood pressure, and overall benefit our mental health. Sound like something you need right now?
Gen Z, and anyone else who uses the internet really, has latched onto an unshakeable truth during uncertain times. In a rapidly changing global landscape, one thing remains...
Don't you feel better already?
We're trying here.
How about now?
Turning to TikTok, as many of the aforementioned Gen Z-ers do, we can see that COVID-19 has perhaps not spread as rapidly anywhere else as it has here. Videos using the hashtag #coronavirus are up to 14.1 billion views. Yes. Billion. And the "It's Corona Time" song has spurred on the creation of over 870 thousand videos.
From this corona cutie that lets you know what you should be doing to help prevent the spread of the virus...
...to actual informative videos uploaded by the World Health Organization themselves.
Sam Thullesen, a college student who created a Corona-related TikTok that received over 15 million views, shared his thoughts on producing creative content during difficult times:
"I think in times like this, memes, videos, etc. can help to make light of the situation," Thullesen said. "I do feel that some of these memes can cross the line and become inappropriate, but when used right can help to ease people's minds and help them put things into perspective."
You still might be on team, "You can't possibly be making jokes about this infectious disease that has literally destroyed lives." That's a perfectly reasonable team to be on. And we truly respect it. But in the famous words of Mark Twain....
"[Humanity] has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug—push it a little—weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand."
Scientists have literally asked people to send them their corona memes. A vaccine is coming. Quarantine is happening. We are putting up a fight. But why not equip yourself with a little extra battle armor?
There is a side effect to this virus that is very different from flu-like symptoms and respiratory distress. It's something that no matter quite what you do to it, it can't be squelched...and that something is creativity.
This pandemic is the global equivalent to Hemingway's famous short short story: For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Here's the time where you say, "What???"
Hang with us here. Here's another meme to hold your attention.
Spending time at home is, as we've all been experiencing, a constraint. To say the least, right?
Creativity has been proven to thrive under constrained conditions. In a study from 1993 conducted at Columbia University, rodents were made to press a bar using only their right paws. As time went on, the rodents not only successfully adapted to their constraints, they were finding creative ways to press the button, such as using their tails, or even bringing their water into play to see if it would earn them any reward.
Raise your hand if you currently feel like a rat in a cage (despite all your rage).
Well, good news: you are!
You are now in quarantine, or, what we've decided to positively rename: a Cognitive Surplus.
Media Theorist Clay Shirky explains:
"People have had lots of free time for as long as there's been the industrialized world. But that free time has mainly been something to be used up rather than used, especially in postwar America, with the rise of suburbanization and long commutes. Suddenly we no longer lived in tight-knit communities and therefore we spent less time interacting face-to-face. As a result, we ended up spending the bulk of our free time watching television."
Live footage of me, my wife and my daughter all working from home today (and for the next two weeks) pic.twitter.com/c8NuSQit3Q— Dan Saltzstein (@dansaltzstein) March 11, 2020
Shirky went on to explain this Cognitive Surplus theory further. "The buildup of this free time among the world's educated population—maybe a trillion hours per year—is a new resource. It's what I refer to as the cognitive surplus."
Free time. Does that sound like anyone we know right now?
Yes, it is us.
So. Our limitations have been constrained, like Hemingway trying to write the world's shortest story. And, for most of us, our free time has massively increased. What will we do?
"So instead of that free time seeping away in front of the television set, the cognitive surplus is going to be poured into everything from goofy enterprises like lolcats, where people stick captions on cat photos, to serious political activities..." says Shirky. In his case, he was talking about the evolution of the time spent in front of the television transforming into time spent making things on the internet.
At home, with infinite access to contacting other people via social media and online communication, we will create. Connect. Make each other laugh. Eat all our snacks. And may we look back on this chapter in history, and say "Despite the darkness, I made that."
In a situation where there seem to be absolutely no upsides, let's look at one. Corona virus might be good for nothin', but it's sort of good for somethin': creativity.
And this. It was also good for this.