I’m Grateful for Bad Virtual Life


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Having to live virtually stinks. But not having virtual life would be worse.

Now that many people around the world are weeks or months into staying home as much as possible, the flaws of working, schooling and socializing through screens are starting to grate.

Some of my friends are even starting to complain that the video game “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” has flipped from a charming distraction to a nagging time-suck.

But for those of us who can access and afford fast internet connections and services, I’m glad we have technologies that let us video chat with colleagues and get coached through home haircuts. Imperfect as these technologies are, they help us make the best of our more physically isolated lives.

As we settle in, though, we need to lower our expectations for virtual life, figure out new social norms and sometimes fall back to old-school ways of connecting.

I’m still struggling to figure out social niceties in our mostly virtual lives. In a gathering with friends over Zoom last weekend, I said I needed to drop off to soak kidney beans before I went to bed. (My life is very exciting.)

Despite the serious drawbacks of the online-everything life and economy, I’m grateful I am able to write this newsletter away from the office, get some essentials delivered at the touch of an app, read escapist e-books and feel relatively connected to friends and family.

I used most of these technologies in our pre-pandemic days. The difference is I no longer take them for granted.

You probably aren’t taking rides with Uber or Lyft these days, if you ever did. That’s a problem for those companies and for people who rely on them for a paycheck.

But this crisis is simply exposing cracks that already existed. These businesses may never have been able to last.

Even before the pandemic, Uber and Lyft were not good businesses. Each time last year that someone paid Uber for a ride, a scooter rental or to deliver dinner, the company bled 63 cents of cash on average. Each customer also cost Lyft more cash than it took in. Yep, the companies would have been better off if they did nothing.

Uber and Lyft have said this was a temporary condition on the way to riches. It’s possible, but Uber has been around for 11 years and it’s still not clear it can stand on its feet financially.

And over the weekend, according to Kate, an employment lawyer at Lyft accidentally invited much of the work force to a meeting titled “Jetty,” in what workers took as a reference to jettisoning jobs. Yeah. Not great.

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