Per My Last E-mail #43

Community in the Time of Corona

Hi Friends 👋,

Happy Monday! It’s weird out there, and I hope you and yours are safe and healthy.

I wrote last week that this newsletter was going to be “a refuge from the Coronaconvo.” But in the intervening seven days, it has become clear that this conversation is unavoidable and that the Coronavirus is going to permanently change the way that we work and gather. So this week, I want to write about how people are re-purposing enterprise software to strengthen their communities while we’re all social distancing.

Community in the Time of Corona

Just when IRL was beginning to make a comeback, the Coronavirus has forced all of us to stay home and social distance. Within days, people have realized just how boring and isolating that can be. Working from home has quickly become like the chocolate cake from Matilda: delicious when you can have a little bit on your own terms, nauseating when you’re forced to down it all in one sitting.

cake GIF

But humans are astoundingly resilient social animals. In a short time, we have MacGyvered new ways of connecting out of tools built for work.

The past five years have seen an explosion in software tools meant to help co-workers collaborate more efficiently - GSuite, Zoom, Slack, Figma, Airtable, and thousands more. These enterprise tools look and feel a lot more like consumer products than their predecessors, like Salesforce. People who coin these terms call it “the consumerization of enterprise software.”

This week, though, consumers are taking back the software - call it the consumerization of consumerized enterprise software. People are building cities in Figma, painting in Google Sheets, dating on Zoom, and building communities in Slack.

There have been so many great examples of this phenomenon in the past week, but Substack has a character limit, so I’ll stick to my nine favorite examples.

1. Casper’s Singalong

Casper ter Kuile, co-author of How We Gather, co-founder of Sacred Design Lab, co-host of the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text Podcast, author of The Power of Ritual, and all-around amazing human being, is world-class at bringing people together. His Zoom singing circle shows why.

With a tweet and a zoom link, Casper gathered over 100 people from around the world (one guy called in from a sailboat) and had us singing together, harmonizing, and doing rounds, on mute, by ourselves or in groups in our apartments. And we loved every second on it. Every person on the Zoom was either singing, smiling broadly, or both. Singing feels like an exclusively in-person thing, but Casper’s singalong proved that singing together online is much better than not singing at all.

2. Zoomers Zoom

Zoomers are having a field day with Zoom as many of their college courses move from the classroom to the computer. Unleashed on Zoom, Gen Z has done what they do best: bent it to their creative will.

A Zoom Meme for Quaranteens Facebook group has racked up 105 thousand members since being launched on March 12th (Gen Z uses Facebook?!).

Earlier this week, two Yale computer science students launched Love Over Zoom in the Ivy League Meme Consortium Facebook group, and have already made 2,400 blind date matches, with 3,100 more on the way.

Students are even sharing Zoom links with each other to attend classes at any school they want.


OK, Zoomers.

3. The InterIntellect NYC Salon

Anna Gát’s InterIntellect brings intellectuals and curious humans together online through a group chat and in-person via Salons, intimate gatherings centered around a universal, timely topic. When Coronavirus hit NYC, she decided to move the scheduled in-person Salon to discuss Ethics & Friendship online.

It was a huge success, with eight of us discussing friendship, community, and responsibility during the Coronavirus. My biggest takeaway, from Alex Yao, was that it is our responsibility to remember what happens during this pandemic so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes next time.

4. Venmoing People for Groceries

While the US government has botched its response spectacularly and embarrassingly (“No, I don’t take responsibility at all”), businesses, local governments, and organizations have shown real leadership and goodness. People are voluntarily quarantining, Zion Williamson is pledging to pay salaries for Pelicans stadium workers, and hundreds or thousands of companies have shut their office doors while continuing to pay hourly workers.

One of the most heartwarming examples I have seen is people with some extra money offering to pay for others’ groceries, medical bills, and basic supplies via Venmo and Cash App.

If you want to contribute, there are countless more threads in which people ask for help, and random strangers provide what they can, like these: here, here, here, here, and here.

5. Party in the Sheets

This one is much more innocent than it sounds. A party in bedsheets would be pretty dangerous right now, but a party in GoogleSheets is exactly the kind of safe fun we should all be having.

Ani Acopian created this Sheet and let hundreds of people run wild with it. So far, they’ve recreated an iMessage in Sheets, painted a beach scene by coloring cells, did the same thing but with a lady in a bikini, played tic-tac-toe, and more. It’s pretty mindblowing that a tool built for financial modeling can be used to create new forms of creative expression and methods of communication in the right hands. Get in there and explore it for yourself.

6. WFH Town on Figma

Figma is a collaborative tool for designers, enabling them to simultaneously work on logos, landing pages, and product mockups. Raph D’Amico wrote an excellent piece on how Figma is a space more than a tool, and Fiona put that theory into action.

She set up a blank canvas, and invited her Twitter followers to come build a virtual world with her. It was so popular that it maxed out the number of simultaneous participants Figma allows, even two days after the tweet.

This is what they created. It’s rough, but it hints at the possibility of creating new virtual worlds together.

7. Oliver Jeffers Reads His Books

With kids stuck at home, and even parents in need of a good children’s book, children’s book author Oliver Jeffers is live reading one of his books online every day. The daily routine adds ritual and predictability in an unpredictable time.

8. Get Real Goes Virtual

Nikhil Krishnan recently quit his stable job to build a company that helps people build relationships online and offline, right in time for a pandemic to limit all offline interaction. I can relate. Nikhil is responding by moving Get Real’s signature event, Get Smart, along with new events, online via Zoom, opening up the community to a larger audience than would have been possible in-person.

9. Not Boring Moves Online

I started Not Boring to help people build connection and learn new things, IRL, supported by technology. Due to the circumstances, we are postponing all IRL events, and moving everything online. It’s a setback, but it’s also a huge opportunity to get creative and provide connection and learning to people when they need it most.

We dodged a bullet by deciding to build a community before building a space, and we have already started connecting as a group online via Slack. Now, we are throwing a series of online events, from a daily WFH Lunch Club to Powerslides to Trivia Night, all via Zoom.

Because we’re not geographically limited online, and because there are bored people around the world right now, we want to open up all Not Boring online events to Per My Last E-mail readers as well.

You can see all of them on the Putting the Social in Social Distancing Calendar (pw: notboring2020wfh). RSVP for individual events at the links in the calendar, or join us at the WFH Lunch Club for music, conversation, and fun every day from 12-1pm est by joining at this Zoom link.

Not Boring’s logo is bright yellow; we were born to make lemonade out of lemons.

Bonus: This couple’s cruise was canceled, so they decided to recreate it at home.

There are so many inspiring examples of people banding together out there. Share your favorites in this thread:

Add to the Thread

Humans have created all of this in the past week. It’s hard to imagine what kind of innovation this crisis will drive in the coming years. But I’ll try:

  1. Companies will build new consumer platforms and tools that productize some of the most creative hacks people are coming up with on their own. Zoom with more social features, Slack for communities, Figma for all sorts of creative side projects. With all of this free time, people are likely building them as we speak.

  2. Companies will be more comfortable with remote work as part of a solution, and fewer employees will push for fully remote schedules. Partial remote will become more prevalent.

  3. People are realizing that remote work can be lonely and isolating. As more companies allow their employees to work remotely some of the time, there will be a need for communities that bridge URL and IRL. (🤞🏻🤞🏻🤞🏻)

  4. Community, which was already experiencing a renaissance, will be recognized as a fundamental tenet of our happiness and well-being.

  5. Retail leasing will undergo even more pain, and both landlords and tenants will look for new models that provide flexibility and financial stability in uncertain times.

  6. The Passion Economy will accelerate as more people look for ways to monetize their skills online. Creativity will flourish across podcasts, writing, graphic design, and other online media.

The next few months will be fully of uncertainty, but I am optimistic that we will come out stronger, more creative, and more resilient than ever before.

Links & Listens

I’m out of space, so I’ll share these links without commentary:

📈 Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now | Tomas Pueyo

👓 Why All the Warby Parker Clones are Imploding | Maya Kosoff | Marker

📚 The Case for Reading Fiction | Christine Seifert | HBR

🍝 A lesson I learned about power, food, and the coronavirus | Ali Montag | Not Boring Writing Club

🏢 Future of Office Course | Dror Poleg and Antony Slumbers

What’s Next?

It’s going to be a fascinating and hopefully fun week as we bring a slew of Not Boring events online. If you’re feeling bored, lonely, and looking for connection, join us!

Thanks for reading,