The Lurid Legacy of Coronavirus: Fear of Humanity


Back off! Social distancing was already a problem before coronavirus. (Photo by Getty Images)

Do you remember thriving downtowns, even in rural areas, with cafes, diners, restaurants and maybe even lunch wagons; hardware, clothes, book and department stores (some with lunch counters); TV-, car- and shoe-repair shacks; smoke, pet, barber, beauty, music and antique shops?

Then the mall opened. Maybe a Walmart superstore, and slowly several of those hometown landmarks went bust.

For more than a quarter century, megamalls had served as the main gathering place. Then came Internet and online shopping with eBay and Amazon, sparking a retail apocalypse.

In 2016, J.C. Penney, RadioShack, Macy’s and Sears each closed more than 100 outlets. Every year, one after the other, major chains filed bankruptcy. In 2019 alone, more than 9,300 popular stores shut their doors, the biggest year ever for closings, according to Yahoo Finance.

The exodus from physical place affected houses of worship. By 2018, Gallup found at an all-time low the percentage of Americans who belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque. Only 50 percent of respondents attended services, down from about 70 percent between 1937 through 1999. The drop-off intensified in the ensuing 20 years.

People were disappearing altogether. Parks and libraries often were empty. Children played video games, patrons checked out eBooks. Teens texted into the wee hours in locked bedrooms. Adults ran apps on androids instead of laps in recreation centers.

By 2018, Americans were spending 11 hours per day looking at screens instead of each other. Factor in six hours sleep, and that’s 75 percent of waking hours.

The great outdoors used to mean nature — hiking, gardening, bird-watching, swimming, fishing and hunting. It still means that for some of us. But for many, the outdoors came to mean simply leaving houses and offices, navigating physical space in cars the way a submarine navigates the sea.

And yet, some downtown stores managed to survive. Some malls stayed open. Churches, synagogues and mosques welcomed the faithful. Parks and libraries were maintained, and community centers provided meeting spaces.

When we needed a break from social media, we could stow smartphones and wander the half-closed Main Streets and malls. We soul-searched on occasion with congregations. We relaxed in parks, exercised in gyms and patronized Ticketmaster for large gatherings at concerts and sporting events.

In this election year, political rallies were attended by hundreds of thousands.

Then came the coronavirus, and everything stopped, closed, or was banned or canceled.

The coronavirus has demon-like characteristics. You can have it with no apparent symptoms and spread it within close proximity of a neighbor. It takes a while to activate within a carrier, so you can test negative on a Tuesday and still spread it on a Thursday.

There are many fears in this life. Top ones are known by the suffix “phobia,” as in acrophobia, fear of heights; claustrophobia, fear of enclosed spaces; entomophobia, fear of insects; ophidiophobia, fear of snakes; astraphobia, fear of storms; and trypanophobia, fear of needles.

But of all the terrors, one in particular is the most intense in all of us: fear of the unknown.

Coronavirus taps into this, triggering panic behaviors.

Handshakes, a symbol of peace tracing back to the 5th century B.C., are forbidden. Yes, for good reason, because the virus is apt to be there. Even President Trump has found it hard not to extend a hand. At a news conference about the coronavirus, the Washington Post reported that the president continued “to shake hands with other speakers, many of whom are members of the White House Task Force charged with trying to stem the disease.”

Because of the emphasis on hands, sanitizers quickly vanished from store shelves. Hoarders bought crates of them. According to the New York Times, one Tennessee man bought 17,700 bottles to sell at exorbitant prices on eBay and Amazon before those online companies prohibited him and others for price gouging.

purellNevertheless, I checked Amazon on March 15 and found one seller “discounting” a one-ounce bottle of Purell sanitizer for $342.80.

Things are going to get worse before they get better. But they will get better. Sooner or later, a vaccine will be developed, and we can all go about living our digital, cloistered lives.


For almost two decades, I have documented the erosion of community because of technology, noting how it would change culture and, ultimately, ethical values established in time, place and society: truth-telling, fairness, responsibility and civility. I am not optimistic.

The coronavirus has set a dangerous precedent — that everyday human contact can be deadly. As such, social distancing will continue as long as we can be distantly social on Facebook and Instagram.

The real challenge for the multitudes who will survive this scare is learning to trust each other again, in person, with a handshake sans sanitizer. The alternative — continued, deeper, damaging self-isolation —may be the lurid legacy of this crisis.

We will need leadership at all levels of government as well as in our schools, churches, homes and work places to avoid that viral scenario.

Instructions to Hold Virtual Classes Using Canvas

Teachers using the educational software Canvas can utilize the “conferences” function to hold online classes for the duration of your institution’s ban on face-to-face classes due to the corona virus crisis. Below are step-by-step instructions.







STEP SEVEN: 1. FILL IN THE DESCRIPTION OF THE CONFERENCE 2. INVITE THE ENTIRE CLASS. 3. CLICK UPDATE. NOTE: You can unclick the box and invite individual students




STEP ELEVEN: SHARE COMPUTER SCREEN OR LECTURE URL. Note: If you want students to see a PowerPoint or Photoshop or any other application, click the “Application Window” tab.


STEP TWELVE: GO TO YOUR LECTURE BROWSER TAB TO SCROLL DOWN AS YOU SPEAK NOTE: Your students will see your scroll. Toggle back and forth as appropriate.


  1. CLICK HERE for student instructions on how to use the “conferences” tab on Canvas.
  2. You should alert your students if you are using this function. Schedule a trial run, perhaps.
  3. You can call on individual students. Ask them to hit the video camera on their screen and they will appear for all to see.
  4. You can record your conference and reuse it.

Student Instructions to Attend Virtual Classes via Canvas

Follow these procedures to join your teacher’s Virtual Classroom. You must be enrolled in one of his or her sections using Canvas educational software. Classes may be scheduled online when  your institution closes for weather-related or flu-related emergency reasons.


You will receive via your institution’s email an invitation to join a live conference.


Click “Conferences.”


Click on the icon so your voice is activated.


Be sure to click allow


Test the microphone and click “yes” if you can hear your voice.


On occasion, you may be asked to participate via your phone or computer webcam. Click  allow  and  start  sharing.


Do NOT click the video button unless your instructor calls on you to answer a question or you want to ask him or her a question. After you ask the question or participate in the discussion, you can click off your video and your picture will disappear from the class screen.


There may be times your instructor asks you to share a photo or digital product. Or you may want to show the class a website. In that case, click the “Share Screen” button below.


Perhaps you might want to share a file in one of your folders, a video, a presentation or a photo in Photoshop. In that case, ask Dr. B for permission. If he grants it, hit the application tab and then choose the program you want to share. NOTE: You should close all non-class related applications or content you do not want the class to see. 


You may want to share a link to your blog or a news or information site. In that case, you should ask the instructor for permission and then hit the browser tab. NOTE: Be sure to close out any open tab that you do not want to share with the class. Very important for privacy!


This is your window into your section as if you were seated in your instructor’s class. Follow all the rules of engagement as if you were face to face.


You can log out of the class at any time if you have to leave the session for an appointment or when the class ends. Be sure, however, to close your Canvas tab as well.

In case you have any difficulty accessing the virtual session via Canvas, please contact your institution’s computer support number.

Technology, Cheating and Loss of Trust

The Houston Astros used technology to help win the 2017 World Series. Students cheat using cell phones, wireless earbuds, spyglasses and smart watches. The speed and stealth of technology are too tempting to resist. But the desire to win at all costs has its downside, too.

The Houston Astros baseball team may have won the 2017 World Series with a little help from technology, but the sign-stealing scandal had deeper repercussions than the penalties imposed by the Commissioner’s Office.

The penalties were the harshest possible under current rules: Houston Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch were fired, and the team fined $5 million with loss of first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

The scheme involved use of a centerfield camera fixed on the opposing team’s catcher relaying signs to the pitcher: fast ball, change up, curve, and so on. The video was relayed to a monitor in a hidden space in the dugout. Once the sign was decoded, a trash can was banged to signal what the next pitch would be.

This had to be done within a second or two, but the speed of technology allowed it.

Once discovered, the scandal cast doubt on every game the Astros won with its cheating system. That was unfortunate, too, because the team was immensely talented and probably would have won the series without cheating.

As the New York Times noted, the effort wasn’t especially needed as in “2017 Houston hit .279 at home with 115 home runs and a .472 slugging average. On the road, where elaborate sign-stealing should theoretically have been more difficult, the Astros hit .284 with 123 home runs and a .483 slugging average.”

But the real damage was to the sport and, more specifically, to the business of baseball. According to another Times report, “The business of baseball depends on the public’s belief in the legitimacy of the competition. That is the implicit deal between the league and fans, and without that trust, everything falls apart.”

That’s the ethical lesson, too. Cheating obliterates trust. Often, it isn’t needed except to insure a winning season … or semester.

Last year Forbes published an article titled “How Technology Is Being Used By Students To Cheat On Tests,” describing how students use wireless earbuds connected to smartphones in backpacks with pre-recorded content related to exams. Other tech-related cheating involved Google glasses with pre-programmed answers and even smartwatches connecting to third-party off-site accomplices transmitting answers.

Temptation is part of the human experience. However, technology has spawned new strategies that some people just cannot resist because of ambition, greed or monetary reward.

When dealing with temptation, ethical people consider consequences, which often are greater than cheaters initially anticipate. They ponder the worst-case scenario and whether they are able to pay that price.

The price usually involves something worse than loss of a job or promotion, or a failing grade on a test or course; it can result in loss of trust, triggering irreparable harm to a person’s career or future.

Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine focuses on how omnipresent technology undermines personal and professional values at home, school and work.

Deadly Censorship: China and Coronavirus

Whistlerblower physician Li Wenliang who warned the world about the deadly coronavirus and was punished by police for spreading rumors, contracted the disease and died in Wuhan Central Hospital. He was hailed a hero on the mircoblogging site Weibo, which carried the hashtag #IWantFreedomOfSpeech (now banned). His case shows the dangers of a world without journalism.

In the wake of his death, The Guardian reported “outrage and frustration felt across China over the initial cover-up of the deadly virus.” Some 1.5 billion Weibo users alone expressed their anger and grief on how Dr. Li had been treated.

According to the Guardian, Li was one of eight people detained for spreading rumors about the dangerous disease, with “the fates of the other seven, also believed to be medical professionals,” still unknown.

Government censorship not only silences truth but also often counters with propaganda and misinformation to minimize the impact on policy and national image. An example occurred with the 1986 meltdown of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in then Soviet Ukraine, which threatened all of Europe. To this day, the death toll from the meltdown has yet to be disclosed but has been estimated between 4,000 and 27,000 people.

The New York Times has reported that China had 20,438 confirmed cases of the disease as of early February. During the SARS outbreak, at this time, it had 5,327 cases.

A pandemic risks the lives of thousands.

Conversely, a free press saves lives. Censorship kills, as history has shown us from Chernobyl to coronavirus. Worse, in the absence of journalism, social media spreads misinformation that scientists have difficulty addressing or correcting. That has led to the term “infodemic,” prompting the World Health Organization to work with tech companies to minimize falsehoods about the coronavirus and other diseases.

‘App-ocalypse’ in the Iowa caucus

Did party officials forget about Murphy’s Law?

Ericka Petersen, a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, brought her two children, ages 3 and 1, to the Iowa satellite caucus in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Robin Bravender, States Newsroom.)

Technology changes everything it touches, without itself being changed much at all. Introduce it into the economy, and the economy is all about technology. Introduce it into education, and education is about the technology. Introduce it into elections, and you have the Iowa Democratic Caucus.

The value of the caucus is multi-fold, and many in media fail to appreciate the community and communal aspects of it. You meet with neighbors in your district. You get a card with a front and back ballot. You name your first choice on the front ballot, and if that candidate garners a set minimum of votes to be viable, you’re done. But you also get a second chance if your candidate is declared not viable because too few people supported them. You can vote for another favorite.

You can’t do that in a voting booth.

Thereafter, though, the process becomes complicated. Very complicated.

A phone app was going to make that all so simple. Uh-huh.

Instead, they listened to technology advocates who sell apps by touting Moore’s Law, with speed and capabilities doubling every few years. We know another law, Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong, it will.Anytime you use technology, you need a Plan B. Anyone who uses technology — from PowerPoint presentations to Skype conferences — has a Plan B. The Iowa Democratic Party didn’t have one.

That’s what happened.

The New York Times was all over this phenomenon, reporting that the app was created by Shadow Inc., a for-profit company. The Times cited Georgetown computer science professor Matt Blaze who stated the obvious: Apps rely on dependable digital networks and operating smartphones to run properly. “The consensus of all experts who have been thinking about this is unequivocal. Internet and mobile voting should not be used at this time in civil elections.”

The app-ocalypse in Iowa might very well bring an end to the state’s caucus and its first-in-the-nation status. Political pundits often criticize the state with its near 3 million residents, and 94% white population, as being non-representative of the nation’s identity. But Iowa’s caucus does offer something of value: It affords candidates a chance to visit with just about everyone of all social classes and interact with us in everyday environments in the year or more leading up to the vote.

All that is in jeopardy, and not only because of the app.

As of this writing, it has been 12 hours since the caucusing ended, and the media are taking prisoners. Here’s a sampling of news stories:


We’re all living in accelerated digital time. Technology does that. We want what we want when we want it: on demand. We want data on demand. We want to know. Who won, who lost, what’s the meaning of all this? TV talking heads were poised to answer all of that.

One humorous aspect of the no-result Iowa caucus is how irritated media organizations become with their pricey pundits in downsized newsrooms having absolutely nothing to talk about. It was mildly enjoyable seeing CNN’s Wolf Blitzer grow apoplectic as the evening progressed, trying to rally panels of experts to say something, anything, other than “we’re waiting for results.”

Presidential candidates had planes to catch and wanted to flee Iowa even though the weather, at least for Iowans, was a balmy 30+ degrees on caucus night.

In the end, we will know who won the caucus. The results will be accurate because — and this is important, everyone, so please listen up — we’re not talking “hanging chads.” There are voting cards with our names on them and precinct captains have those cards in their possession.

In the meantime, the media circus will have moved on to New Hampshire. The Iowa results will have less of an impact because state party officials relied on technology instead of common sense.

They used an app called Shadow, and it cast a shadow on the future of our caucus.

Technology, Ethics and Kobe Bryant’s Death

Should a news organization have broadcast the basketball star’s death before family were officially informed?

Should Bryant’s sexual assault charge have been mentioned in initial accounts of his passing in a crash that also killed his 13-year-old daughter and seven others?

These are legitimate questions concerning the death of basketball great Kobe Bryant, 41, who perished with his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash en route to a sports event.

It is standard media practice to wait until officials notify family members of a loved one’s passing. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that this did not happen, publishing a screenshot of the tweet above by a sheriff’s deputy.

Internet, social media and satellite broadcasting have changed standard practice at some but not all news agencies, especially when the death is sudden and concerns a celebrity.

Kobe Bryant was one of basketball’s greatest athletes. The pressure to report was intense. But nonetheless, doing so before family members were informed is ethically suspect.

Scoops were important in the age of legacy media, especially print, when competitors might take hours or even a day or more to match a story. It meant that your outlet had reporters in the field or at the site of spot news. The audience could rely on the outlet’s being first and informing you before others in the spirit of the public’s right to know.

In the digital age, being first to report has a different advantage. It keeps viewers on your channel or website for the inevitable flood of updates and analyses about breaking news.

In this type of environment, news outlets again are dealing with the acceleration of time, an illusion of technology. Everything must be immediate.

It is perfectly ethical for an outlet to wait until authorities notify relatives. That remains the standard. Consider the impact in this case on Bryant’s family, perhaps hearing about their relatives’ deaths from Facebook, Twitter, email, text, video messaging and phone calls.

It must have been harrowing.

It is also true that accelerated time affects what news commentators say about celebrities, even upon first learning about their passing.

CNN’s sports analyst Christine Brennan gave a retrospective five-minute analysis about Bryant soon after his death was reported by TMZ and mainstream media. Within that time frame, Brennan did briefly mention the 2003 sexual assault case, stating: “And, of course, there are issues, while it seems difficult to mention at the moment of his death that we’re talking about the sexual assault allegations, the trial — that was a terrible moment, and that was not good, obviously. I’m not going to sugar-coat that at all.”

Brennan was referencing a charge that Bryant raped a 19-year-old hotel employee. Charges were dropped when the woman did not testify against him. A civil suit was filed and settled out of court.

The CNN reference to the case was made in a report that still fell under the category of spot news. Viewers still learning about his death anticipated a different analysis.

Nevertheless, this wasn’t the first time that the case was mentioned in recent years. Upon Bryant’s 2016 retirement, in the midst of celebrating his sports legacy, The Daily Beast published a full account.

From an ethics perspective, the assault should be mentioned in Bryant’s obituary. It was a major national story.

But again, technology accelerated time. After reporting his death, online news went right into obit mode. In the past there would have been a spot news report about the crash and perhaps the next day, an obituary with the rape case mentioned therein along with other aspects of Bryant’s life.

Mentioning the case while reporting spot news–even before or shortly after his family had heard of his passing–angered some viewers trying to absorb the tragedy that also claimed the life of his daughter, Gianna Maria Onore.

Categories of news have their place, even in the digital era. When spot news combines with obituary in a digital milieu rife with omnipresent commentary by analysts and talking heads, questions are sure to arise.

This will happen again because technology changes everything it touches, including media ethics. It accelerates time. Everything is immediate. Sometimes truth comes off as untimely, at least in the moment.

A New Holiday Tradition: Hide the Router

Lacking cheer in the New Year? There may be a reason, from incessant robo calls to smart phones at the holiday table. This “Iowa View” post in The Des Moines Register advises what you can do about it.

Technology has changed holiday traditions. More of us shop online rather than on Main Street marveling at street decorations and festive window displays. We can avoid the post office, too, with companies like Amazon providing shipping and gift-wrapping. Presents require internet rather than assembly. We can text a digital card with a meme or emoticon rather than sit at the kitchen table composing missives for nieces, nephews, children and grandchildren.

Maybe that’s for the better, since many digital natives have trouble reading cursive.

Despite these conveniences, we seem less cheerful, peeved by pings, clicks and beeps of our era. …

For the rest of the post, visit The Des Moines Register.

Peeping Trolls: We Need New Laws to Stop Invasive Hacking

Many states have “Peeping Tom” laws for anyone who views, photographs or films another person without consent in a place where the victim has a reasonable expectation of privacy. But as of yet, no such law exists for hackers who invade a person’s home through camera security systems.

In recent weeks, hackers have broken into Ring security cameras terrorizing children, spying on women and spewing racist slurs.

 In one such incident, a Peeping Troll not only invaded a person’s home but also called a 15-year-old boy racist names.

Another incident involved a man making inappropriate comments to a woman. The perpetrator then set off the woman’s home alarm system.

Here’s a video of a hacker terrorizing an 8-year-old.

In response, Ring published a post that recommended enabling two-factor authentication and stronger passwords.

In an article about the hacks, titled–“We tested Ring’s Security. It’s Awful“–Motherboard wrote:

Ring hackers’ software works by rapidly checking if an email address and password on the Ring web login portal works; hackers will typically use a list of already compromised combinations from other services. If someone makes too many incorrect requests to login, many online services will stop them temporarily from doing so, mark their IP address as suspicious, or present a captcha to check that the user trying to login is a human rather than an automated program. Ring appears to have minimal protections in place for this though.

Breaking into home cameras is a clear violation of privacy, and if authorities are able to identify a hacker’s IP address, some laws may apply. But now is the time for stiffer penalties. There’s little difference between a Peeping Tom and a Peeping Troll. The latter is perhaps more sinister in that perpetrators do not have to reveal themselves and can invade privacy for as long as luridly as they like and remain silent.

They can stalk, spew hate and terrorize, too.

It’s time prosecutors and lawmakers do something about this new type of home invasion as hackers and their apps become more sophisticated.

Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine has chapters on privacy invasion at home, school and work.