Just Shoot Yo' Shot
National Oil & Grease Seals put out a series of advertisements in the 1950s, each depicting a different technological invention from the future. What’s quite comical is these prints are largely unrelated to oil seals—-at least directly. The company argues in some long-leaping, Olympian-scale, logical gymnastics that oil seals will, of course, be a key component of these future inventions, and, thus, oil seals are somehow related to the future and, hence, a shining beacon of the future. Put that at the top of the list of the best spins the world has ever seen, next to Roger Federer’s forehand.
We’ve always been fascinated, curious, even anxious about the future. With the rise of science fiction, this type of future-thinking has made its way into the business realms, architecture & the arts, and just about everything in the mainstream world. Take, for instance, Shell Oil, which has put out an in-depth thought project on possible future global scenarios since the 1970s. As expected, some predictions are laughable, but others are eerily accurate.
In the midst of this coronavirus pandemic, we are maybe as future-looking as ever. Rarely does a day go by for me without talking to a friend about if we’ll see any changes by summer or what this will look when it’s over or what “it’s over” even looks like. I debated whether or not to write on this. I feel it’s important to capture sentiments of coronavirus since it’s big and it’s happening in our lives right now, but I don’t want to be sounding the alarm on repeat. If anything, I hope to use writing to engage with other things going on since it’s so easy for everything and anything to converge back to coronavirus right now. So maybe the solution, for this time, is to provide some adjacent ideas on coronavirus and expound on perspectives not commonly touched on by media.
On March 16, Researchers at Imperial College London released a paper that rapidly spread among the scientific and policy communitiesthat influenced and persuaded lockdown in the UK and the US. Then NECSI—a Cambridge, MA-based research institution and think tank—fired back, stating, “using incorrect assumptions makes for bad policy advice. Where lives are at stake, it is essential for science to adhere to higher standards.” This is probably the closest you’ll get to an academic rap battle, and I’m all for it.
Titans of higher education have chimed in. Harvard history professor Jill Lepore speaks on the loneliness we feel now but also leaves us wondering: how long will this go for and what will the effects be? Brown University President Christina Paxson argues that campuses must reopen in the fall, and if not, we’ll face a future with irreversible losses in education and its institutions.
There’s also a coincidental Greek-American professor duo throwing down their own academic sledgehammers. And they don’t agree. Stanford School of Medicine professor John Ioannidis argues that we might be overreacting, and in a WSJ piece, says, “‘usually I’m a pessimist, but in this case, I’m probably an optimist.'” But in a Twitter thread–that honestly looks more APUSH DBQ than sitting-on-the-pisser, casual-140-characters kind of message–Yale Professor Nicholas Christakis states: “COVID-19 resembles 1957 influenza pandemic in certain epidemiological ways.” In an email he sent out to his class which I was forwarded, he adds, “we all hope the 2020 pandemic will not be like the even worse 1918 pandemic.” Christakis also argues against Ioannidus’ Stat News piece in his Twitter thread, conceding “[Ioannidus] rightly points out that we are making huge decisions with crappy data” but counterarguing: “what I think Ioannidis ignores is the fact that we are facing an epidemic with a pulse of cases approaching us, all at once, in a wave.” (This might be the pinnacle of what my parents’-pocket-purging, Zoomified Yale education has prepared me for: citing tweets in MLA format.)
Industry giants have even chipped in their two cents. Morgan Stanley has modeled a projected timeline of US coronavirus cases and work life in the next year. Deloitte proposes four possible futures in a world reshaped by COVID-19. What a time to be alive in: Morgan Stanley and Deloitte, esteemed protectors of the free world, leading the forefronts of discussion on coronavirus-impacted futures, just as we all expected.
The point is there are endless arguments, models, hypotheses, and, above all, speculations being crafted–and they’re eloquent, insightful, and well-intentioned–but many of them are what they are at the end of the day: speculative. For instance, last Monday’s episode of NYT’s The Daily pointed out that there are folks–and these are incredibly smart and educated ones–suggesting a dip, followed by a second wave, is coming, but there’s no solid grounding for this. Coronavirus has spread just as quickly in the hot climates of India and Brazil. This isn’t to insinuate that we’re underreacting or overreacting with home quarantine policy, or that we should step on the gas or slam the breaks when it comes to preventing economic recession. We shouldn’t stop speculating, but we should be painstakingly cognizant that many of our discussions of the future are built upon the uncertainties of today so these assumptions must be noted and questioned. Our focus on the future might be detracting from our understanding of the now.
The late Mac Miller grapples with an uncertain future in Ladders from his 2018 album, Swimming. Likely influenced by a string of rough life events, Miller’s Swimming project is tainted with melancholic wisdom. Ladders is no exception as Miller uses the ladder–one’s climb and fall–as a bittersweet metaphor for life. He spends much of the song reminding us of a sobering future, the inevitability of falling: “But it all come fallin’ down / When the night, meet the light / Turn to day.”
But while an honestly, um, depressing piece, Miller offers his best advice–which comes with a conflicting feeling of remorseful closure–at the end: “I wouldn’t wait forever / Just shoot yo’ shot / We don’t need no more, no extras / We all we got.”
In a time of vast uncertainties, maybe the one thing we can and should be most certain of is our now–what we spend our time on now, who we spend our time with now, how we choose to spend our time now. And it’s happening now–move past the bad news, and I’m encouraged by the increased kindness people have for others, the intentionality and creativity of so many, and those doing things they love. “Just shoot yo’ shot” as Miller says.