Early in the pandemic there was a moment when it started to become clear that the lockdowns that had been proposed as a temporary measure were, in fact, going to go on for a while. Society was understandably anxious. What are we going to do, people wondered, without restaurants, bars, dating, face-to-face human contact, sex with strangers, museums, opera, movie theaters?
Some of the worst people in the world swept in with suggestions. Don’t think of this as lost time, self-help moguls and lifestyle influencers and creative professionals told us. Think of this as an opportunity. Dutifully, some Americans made big plans to utilize and optimize this year of mass death and instability – to perfect sourdough; to learn Italian from an app; to do a lot of squats; to write King Lear.
I thought they were joking. I thought the pandemic resolutions would end up like the kind made on New Year’s Eve, pursued with optimism and vigor for two weeks, then shoved in a drawer never to be thought about again. But a man’s viral description of a recent job interview reveals that someone took the notion of spending the pandemic working on ourselves very seriously: our potential employers.
“I don’t want to alarm anyone,” the pseudonymous Twitter user warned, but at a job interview he was asked whether he used the pandemic to “to pursue any passion projects or personal development”. His tweet prompted a flood of other users’ similar experiences of being asked to account for their time shut into their houses. Whether you spent the pandemic curled into a ball mainlining carbohydrates or in a frantic pursuit of accomplishment and accreditation and ambition while people died around you is, I guess, supposed to say something about your character and whether you deserve employment and money and benefits.
During the past year, the media tried to stuff us with inspirational stories of people who took a bad situation and made it grand. This man made a fortune shorting stocks from his kitchen table. This couple made millions selling handmade masks on Etsy. This person wrote a hit book, got fit, found love in the most unlikely of places. And here were all the good boys and girls of social media, looking for their gold stars for meeting deadlines, getting new jobs, exploiting others’ labor in a rentier …….