Roughly a hundred years ago, I worked at a newspaper in my teens. It was a small-town paper, with a strangely hybrid tech stack. You typed your story into an Apple computer that had a monitor set on end, to be more vertical than horizontal. You printed the story out, then ran the print-out through a waxing machine, and used the physical paper to do the page layout, a process called paste-up. I’ll write more about how that changed my writing in a bit, but I remember that there was always a drift of sticky scraps of paper, rejected words, on the floor.
I’m writing an article for a magazine (I may have mentioned), and I wrote this paragraph in response to a question from the editor, but I marked it as “way too political” and then wrote a second, less-inflammatory paragraph for inclusion. But I liked this one, so here is a little scrap that smells of cheap paper and hot wax.
In 2020, we got some excellent examples of how different approaches to planning, capacity management, and emergency response can make a real difference between a public-health problem and a slow-motion mass-casualty event. Countries that instituted early and rigorous lockdowns, quarantines, and payments have had lower Covid-19 transmission rates and deaths. Countries that had a scattered and laissez-faire response are still in an escalating crisis. Every country has been exposed to a novel virus with pandemic transmission, there has been no way to prevent that. However, the differences in responses have led very clearly to differences in outcomes. We also see that when it is crucial for the world to get a useful vaccine, it’s safer and more effective to invest in multiple branches of investigation in parallel than to put all our efforts into one attempt after another, serially. Pandemic is inevitable, responses to it change the fate of nations.