Hi, everybody, and congrats for making it through another week. We’ll do this seven days at a time.

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The Plain View

This past Wednesday, “after much deliberation,” the organizers of the Aspen Ideas Festival, scheduled for late June and early July, canceled the event. Like every other events team faced with zeroing out months of hard work–which is often the focus of an entire year and the whole of their jobs–they probably found themselves tumbling down the Kubler-Ross progression. This means lingering in the denial stage (maybe it will be over in a few months!), desperately bargaining (should we go virtual?), and finally making the depressing call to abort. Acceptance is the final stage, and in this case, it comes with the understanding that all that deliberation was pro forma. Conferences just don’t happen during pandemics. Everything is cancelled. Meanwhile, those who would have attended have moved on to bigger worries.

For me, Aspen was the last domino in a chain of what would have been a busy season: South by Southwest; New Orleans Bookfest; Collision; The Code Conference; I/O; F8; Techonomy NY; TED. I knew my plans for all of these were shot, and had given up on Aspen long before the organizers did. At an earlier time, the wipeout of a single trip would have been considered disruptive. But these days, most of us attendees zip through the stages of grief in less time than it takes to wash our hands. We’re resigned to sheltering in place now, and socializing only with those inside our walls. Conferences are just one more thing not to attend; there’s also professional and amateur sports, theater, movies, clubs, concerts, work, elective surgery, school, seders, and shivas.

Attending tech conferences is far from the most vital activity. If one were to construct a Maslow‘s hierarchy of going-out-of-the-house needs, they would be on the narrower, more dispensable, “self-actualization” part of the pyramid–not the fat bottom, where the basic needs live (like food, health, and Anthony Fauci keeping his job).

Only a privileged few of us were locked into the conference circuit, but pretty much everybody is now missing social events they looked forward to–reunions, weddings, birthday celebrations, even a great night out at the bar or restaurant. Increasingly we are offered a virtual alternative. My wife and I were invited to a Zoom dinner by friends of ours the other night. Would that mean dressing up? Or dressing?