The Great Experiment
What social scientists are learning from the pandemic. Plus: The Great Indoors in the New Yorker.
First, as usual, a few bits of book news:
I was absolutely thrilled to discover that Jill Lepore wrote about The Great Indoors in her wonderful New Yorker piece, “Is Staying In Staying Safe?”
I was on “The Indicator from Planey Money,” chatting about how we can make the most of our indoor space
You can now read a brief excerpt of my chapter on the indoor microbiome at Mental Floss
A Natural Experiment?
Over the last few months, I’ve been working on a story about how social scientists are using the pandemic as an opportunity to launch all sorts of innovative new research projects. As I explain in the piece:
Over the past six months, the coronavirus pandemic has remade daily life, prompting widespread school closures, layoffs and home confinement. These changes have created social and economic chaos — but also unique research opportunities for social scientists, producing a “natural experiment” that could help answer questions about issues from family dynamics to how economic insecurity affects views of government policy.
Scientists are seizing the moment. By early September, the crowdsourced “COVID 19 Social Science Research Tracker” listed more than 300 projects — and that figure represents “just the tip of the iceberg,” says the tracker’s co-creator, J. Nathan Matias, an assistant professor of communication at Cornell University.
It was fun and fascinating chatting with researchers who are trying to make the most of this moment. But this flurry of research also comes with a major caveat. This year has been so strange and unusual, and the disruption to daily life so profound, that it's going to be difficult to interpret a lot of this data. Will the findings really be useful and generalizable? As one skeptic told me, "The principle of experimentation is that you change one thing, and you see what changing that one thing does, so you’re trying to hold everything else constant." But in this case, “that’s just not happening. Everything has changed.” Check out the full story here.
A father’s letter to his daughter after their home burned down
Color me skeptical: “A building standard pitched as making indoor spaces ‘immune’ to the coronavirus aims to get more employees back to the office.”
Smart homes are increasingly monitoring our health (FYI: I wrote about this at length in the book—if you’re interested, check out chapter seven)
L.A. unveils its “streetlight of the future”
“What can a body do, then, but also: What can design do to empower the body? How can design help us reimagine what “doing” looks like, in a way that embraces difference rather than pathologizing it?”
Colleges are using the pandemic as an excuse to surveil their students—an effort that’s destined to fail
“Workplaces are complex social ecosystems just like all other places humans inhabit, and decentralizing them can obliterate the things that make them satisfying”
The pandemic is fueling demand for cleaning robots
“A spaceship is a perfect Petri dish for accelerated language change.” Fascinating piece.
The emergence of a gentrification font
Amazon is making it easier for landlords to integrate Alexa devices into their rental properties. What could go wrong?
Remote work and the rise of “Zoom towns”
Some of the ideas architects are dreaming up in the wake of the pandemic
What happened to all those hospitals China rushed to build in the early days of the pandemic?
It may sound simple, but opening windows could really help reduce the risk of Covid-19
Most offices are currently deserted, but life science companies are scrambling to find more workspace
Bonus Interspecies Animal Content
The Great Indoors is now out! You can find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, IndieBound, or your local independent bookstore. (And if you’ve already read the book, please consider leaving an Amazon rating or review!)