I took a digital sabbath yesterday. I ended up doing three things.
- Read The End of October by Lawrence Wright
- Took a nap
- Watched three episodes of Breaking Bad
I feel so much better than I did at the end of the day Friday. After I finish this blog post, I’m going to participate in the Emerge Family Virtual 5k.
The End of October was intense. It’s the story of a modern day pandemic. It’s fiction, but deeply researched. I have no idea how much was modified to suit the actual reality, but given the time frame for publishing most books, my guess is “not that much.”
I was shocked by how close the ramp-up was to what has actually happened during the Covid crisis. The pandemic movies have similar ramp-ups, but other than Contagion have happy Hollywood endings. In contrast, many books do not. There is no happy ending in The End of October.
Wright did an amazing job of showing the collision of politics and science, economics and health, and top-down control vs. distributed collaboration. Some authors spend too much time “telling.” Wright just used his story to show, and show, and show.
We are still early on in the Covid-19 pandemic – probably 25% of the way through Wright’s book. The darkness in the last 75% is a fundamental warning for us in one way this can go. While I’m ultimately optimistic, I’m not at all comfortable with or confident in much of anything right now.
The End of October is a dose of heavy medicine for anyone who thinks “this is no big deal” or “this is all over” or “this is heading on a good path that can’t be derailed.” I’m not suggesting any of these things are true or false, but rather recommending the book as perspective on the bad path that might be in front of us.
It’s a beautiful day in Colorado. The animals are everywhere, enjoying spring. Amy and I are in our pajamas, experiencing a typical Sunday morning. But, we are aware that the overall context we are living in is very different than what we are used to.
Most people, unless you work either for government or an infectious disease “organization” (non-profit, hospital, health care system) probably had not heard the phrase “contact tracing” until a month or so ago.
I now hear and see the phrase “contact tracing” everywhere.
About a month ago, as I started working on Covid-related stuff, the phrase came up regularly on the private side as a partial solution to the problem of “opening things back up.” It was often phrased as “it will be hard to open anything up until we have enough testing and contact tracing.”
For about a week, I couldn’t figure out why many of the people I was interacting with seemed to dismiss my ideas and concerns about contact tracing. Then, in a conversation, someone in government explained what the government’s historical view of contact tracing was, which is a well-defined and regularly executed completely manual process.
A giant lightbulb went off in my brain as I realized two things were happening. A bunch of people who were hearing the phrase “contact tracing” figured “yup – we’ve got that under control” (meaning they already had a manual contact tracing effort in place or about to be launched). The rest were thinking “the tech people want to automate and digitize the manual contact tracing activity – that’ll never work and it’ll create huge security and data privacy issues.”
So, I, along with everyone I am working with, started calling it “Digital Contact Tracing.” That helped some, especially as we described its relationship to Manual Contact Tracing. But, there was still too much explanation of Manual Contact Tracing vs. Digital Contact Tracing. And, confused continued to abound.
The phrase “Digital Contact Tracing” started evolving. The ACLU wrote a great white paper titled Principles for Technology-Assisted-Contact-Tracing which generated a clever acronym (TACT). I also saw the phrase “Digital Contact Tracing and Alerting” being used.
Yesterday, Harper Reed put up a short post titled Digital Contact Tracing and Alerting vs Exposure Alerting that lays out the history of the concept and renames it “Exposure Alerting.”
Exposure Alerting is the correct phrase for Digital Contact Tracing. It is clearly additive to Manual Contact Tracing (or simply Contact Tracing as most of the non-technical world refers to it.)
So, from here on out, I think we should call this activity Exposure Alerting. I think we would have saved a lot of time and energy if we had come up with the right name from the beginning. But, since this is going to be with us for a very long time, let’s start now.
Make4Covid is a new Colorado-based volunteer organization of makers working on making stuff related to the Covid crisis. They were started 26 days ago, have 2023 community volunteers, are working with 105 organizations, and have delivered 14,335 pieces of PPE as of this morning.
I’ve been in the Slack channel from inception and it’s just amazing to see what they’ve done. It’s an awesome example of the intersection of volunteers, 3D printing, makers, and a bunch of people motivated to help their fellow Coloradans in a crisis.
I’ve tried to do my part to connect them where I could, so hopefully I’ve been a little bit helpful. Amy and I – through our Anchor Point Foundation – just made a meaningful contribution.
Please consider joining us and making a donation to Make4Covid.
Our Colorado governor, Jared Polis, displayed an amazing act of leadership in his response to what I consider a question posed in an extreme and divisive way yesterday.
The question asked was:
We are hearing a lot of reports around here … about neighbors reporting on other neighbors for not following the orders … rebellion out here against your orders which have been called tyrannical, against local health department orders being equated to Naziism. How do you react to that? What do you say to those people who are clearly getting frustrated with this stay at home order?
I thought Jared’s response was incredible. It included:
As a Jewish American who lost family in the holocaust, I’m offended by any comparison to Naziism. We act to save lives. The exact opposite of the slaughter of six million Jews and many gypsies and Catholics and gays and lesbians and Russians and so many others.
Ok. Pause and consider that for a moment. When you watch the video (which I hope you do), pay attention to Jared’s behavior as he starts to lose his composure, but then regains it.
He follows with:
It’s not a contest to see what you can get away with. It’s a contest to see how well you can stay at home. By not staying at home, by having parties, by congregating, you are not sticking it to the government. You are not sticking it to Jared Polis. You are sticking it to yourself because you are putting yourself and your loved ones in jeopardy and you are prolonging the economic pain and difficulties your fellow Coloradans face.
He finishes with:
Now is the time for us to act with unity, to act together, to do the best that we can …
This is leadership in the time of crisis. This is how I want my leaders to lead and to react to challenging questions, divisive and ad-hominem attacks, and analogies to things that are personally offensive.
Notice that in the midst of a question that clearly provoked an emotional reaction, Jared answered the question incredibly clearly with a positive, thoughtful, and unifying, rather than divisive and hostile, response.
Jared – thank you for your amazing leadership in this crisis. Fellow Coloradans, let’s all pull together in this crisis, no matter what.
We are all looking for ways to help during the COVID crisis. The most important thing most of us can do is simple: stay home. Taking social distancing seriously is our best collective measure against the pandemic right now.
But we need to help the people who can’t stay home.
Glowforge has launched the 2 Million Essential Ears initiative. The goal is to print 1 million Ear Savers on Glowforge printers across the US and get them for free to the essential workers who need them.
An Ear Saver is a small adapter that prints in less than a minute. It lets a front line worker attach their mask comfortably and safely. The hooks let the wearer use a mask of almost any size, which is important when not every sized mask is available to every worker. Fit is crucial for forming a safe seal on a surgical or N95 mask, and the Ear Saver makes a correct fit much easier.
With essential workers spending entire days wearing their masks, the elastic straps can cause discomfort which can lead to painful ear damage. The ear straps take this pressure off of the ears of the wearer.
If you have a Glowforge printer, join the Ear Saver printing team now.
Or, go register to get some free Ear Savers if you need them for yourself, those taking care of you, or those in your community.
I usually do a digital sabbath from Friday sundown to Sunday morning. No email. No meetings (except urgent ones). I used to do no phone, but the text dynamic to coordinate getting together has made that difficult (even in the world of Covid) so I check the lock screen on my phone a few times a day and deal with anything important.
Until yesterday, I hadn’t had a digital sabbath since 3/14. I also hadn’t had a day off since 3/14.
Friday night I crashed. My last call ended around 6:20 pm. My inbox was still full of stuff, but I had no energy to even look at it. We had a Zoom dinner with Ryan and Katherine, although it didn’t involve food since they eat late and I blew it by not being ready for dinner until three minutes before dinner was supposed to start … After dinner, Amy and I went downstairs and watched a little more Hunters, which I think we’ve decided to stop watching after episode two.
We went to bed around 10 pm. When we crawled into bed, I committed to Amy to have a digital sabbath. I knew she was worried about me and I hit a self-aware point that I was on the edge of good vs. not good emotionally and physically.
I woke up around 10 am. I had a strong green recovery score on my Whoop for the first time in a while (I’ve had plenty of red, some yellow, and an occasional green, but never very strong …). I went to the bathroom, meditated, and had a cup of coffee on the couch with Amy.
I then went for a run. I’m very out of shape relative to my norm because of a January back injury (muscle) combined with no consistency in exercise the last month. That ended a week ago as I started running again with some swimming tossed in.
I then ate a little and finished reading Facebook: The Inside Story by Stephen Levy which I had started on March 8th. I hadn’t opened a book since mid-March and as I read the second half of it, I realized I wasn’t very interested in it.
I then broke digital sabbath and did a Zoom call that I noticed showed up on my Zoom Room calendar. I’m glad I did it as it helped resolve some outstanding issues on a project that is launching this upcoming week.
I read a little more (Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life after Which Everything Was Different by Chuck Palahniuk), had some leftovers (thanks Amy for cooking so much!) and then went downstairs and watched 93 Days.
I was in bed by 9:30 pm. When I woke up this morning, I felt very refreshed.
Digital sabbath will simply begin again for me.
When Amy and I had life dinner on March 1st, we were both tired after a three-week trip to Boston, Miami, and Atlanta. As we discussed the potential impact of Covid, we talked about the current state of things in the US. The stock market had already had a 15% or so drop but there were less than 10 deaths (all in Seattle) from Covid in the US.
I remember us having an anxious evening that included the statement “I’m really glad February is over and we are back home in Boulder.” Prescient, but not really what we meant.
Life dinner on April 1st was very different. While the Colorado stay at home order went into effect on March 26th, Amy and I had already been in a stay at home mode starting March 11th. The last time I left my house was on March 10th for a board meeting and dinner with Mike Platt for Indian food at Jaipur.
Today is the first day since March 11th that I’ve felt any semblance of space to actually think, rather than react.
While there is a huge amount of intensity everywhere and the Covid crisis rages on, many of the things I’m involved in are now fully operational, the leaders are leading, and everyone I’m working with is focused on solving problems. I have much more situational awareness and perspective than I had even a week ago. While I don’t have answers to many things, I have hypotheses, am involved in trying lots of things, and am focused on being proactive, rather than just reactive.
Notwithstanding the stress and anxiety in the system, I felt a real emotional shift in the last few days among the people I’m involved with. There is less confusion, randomness, speculation, denial, and fear.
For much of my non-work work, I have built several teams of volunteers. I have been amazed at the willingness of people to volunteer, especially in a time of crisis that is impacting and disrupting so many of them.
The leaders have been remarkable and I continue to learn about leadership by working closely with them.
But even more remarkable is the large number of volunteers pitching in. Some are people I know while many are people I’ve met for the first time during the Covid crisis. The level, quality, and commitment of the work being produced is mindboggling. This seems to be true in both validating hypotheses and implementing stuff, as well as invalidating hypotheses and deciding not to continue to pursue a particular path any further.
I’ve written several things that have been rapidly implemented by volunteers in this crisis. Many direct benefits are wired into the local community, so there is a powerful feedback loop around feeling good about helping by actually helping.
I’ll have a lot more to say about this in the next few months, especially around the intersection of community with a complex system, which is the thesis at the core of my new book with Ian Hathaway called The Startup Community Way. I never expected to be living what I just spent three years with Ian coming up with and writing a book about.
To all the volunteers in Colorado that I am getting to work with right now, thank you for everything you are doing during this Covid crisis.
While many people are taking social distancing seriously, there are plenty who are not.
I’m hearing regular stories of packed public parks, too many people on trails, lots of people crowded into Home Depot picking up home repair things, and strange parties that I can only rationalize as civil disobedience gone awry.
While it’s tough to stay home all the time, wear a mask in public, and keep a real physical distance from anyone outside your home, it’s really important right now. A large number of people on the front lines are literally risking their lives and working incredibly hard to get ahead of the health impacts of this disease. Simultaneously, a correspondingly large number of people, both in government, private industry, and volunteers, are working behind the scenes to get to whatever “the new normal” is going to be in our society.
Please be safe and healthy. Take social distancing seriously.
For over a decade, I’ve worked closely on a number of entrepreneurial initiatives with my friend Brad Bernthal, an Associate Professor at Colorado Law and the Silicon Flatirons Center. The past few weeks unexpectedly resulted in a new project with Brad B. and CU’s entrepreneurial community.
On March 19, Bart Temme, and entrepreneur in Holland, reached out to me and Brad B. The next day we jumped on a call. Bart shared notes about how the startup community in his area of Holland mobilized in response to COVID-19. Bart provided grim notes about the reality of the contagion and the needs of their area. Yet Bart also spoke about the possibilities for entrepreneurial networks, accustomed to taking action and helping each other, to make an impact.
On that call, we hatched an idea to harness the power of university students. The vision: match an army of student age volunteers to COVID-19 response needs. Brad B. agreed to see if our university entrepreneurial network would build out this effort.
In just two weeks, they created something powerful. I encourage you to read the update from Brad B. about HumanKind below and, if interested, get involved.
FROM BRAD BERNTHAL
I’ve been humbled to join a team that, over the past two weeks, built and launched HumanKind, a program to mobilize university students to help during the COVID-19 crisis. The platform bridges the gap between community needs and university-age volunteers.
To make this happen, volunteers jumped in from all corners of the campus – and beyond – over the past two weeks. A core team of about 20 volunteers – students, staff, and faculty – divvied up roles, joined Zoom meetings, and even pulled me into the Slack universe (I think I was the last holdout).
HumanKind just went live last night. A two-minute explainer video (created by my 8th grade daughter, Quinn, who got involved in the effort) summarizes what we’re up to.
HumanKind is a matchmaking platform between (1) university students, and (2) individuals and organizations in the community who need help. Areas in which HumanKind hopes to drive volunteer efforts include (i) remote social interaction with isolated elderly populations, (ii) support to front line medical providers (potentially things like dog walking and remote tutoring for their kids), and (iii) connection to existing networks that would welcome university student help.
We intentionally created HumanKind to be inclusive. We welcome university-age students who go to school out of state, but are now back at home in Colorado during the crisis, to join the effort. We also welcome the use of HumanKind at other universities throughout Colorado. We’ve branded this in a way that, hopefully, feels like student and entrepreneurial leaders at other schools can make use of the platform.
We’d now love to have the startup community push to (1) inspire university-age students in Colorado to join the COVID-19 response, and (2) identify organizations and networks that need university-age volunteers. Here are actions that you can take:
- If you are a university-age student in Colorado, and you’d like to raise your hand to get involved, please register here.
- If you have an organization or network looking for university-age volunteer help to serve community needs, please reach out here.
- If you are a small business seeking help navigating the COVID crisis, please see available resources here.
- If you would like to use HumanKind to drive university-age volunteers at your university or college in Colorado, please reach out to me.
I’ve always wanted to build new things as part of a startup. I did not expect the chance to create something new to come under these circumstances. I have been inspired, and humbled, to see volunteers on our team use their entrepreneurial tools in the service of COVID-19 response impact. Across campus, we teach the value of entrepreneurial skills and mindsets. It is now amazing to put these skills to work at the most important of times. I am optimistic that this platform could make a real impact over the coming months.