We’ve been self-isolating for more than three weeks now, and while many people are complaining about being cooped up for so long, I think it’s important to recognize those things that have made our collective bout with quarantine more tolerable. I’ve come up with a list of five things that I think have been essential, listed in reverse order of their first invention. Two of them are about as old as civilization, interestingly.
- Alcohol — Where would we be without wine, beer, and other adult beverages? At the end of a hard day of working at home, a glass of wine or a cold tumbler of suds sure make the graphs showing how curves can be flattened and the news about ventilator production go down a bit easier. Liquor sales spiked after the shutdown was announced, and it quickly became clear that Americans put alcohol on the same exalted level as toilet paper when it comes to being absolutely certain of having a more than ample supply. As somebody said, it’s not clear that people are drinking more during the work-at-home period, but they’re sure not drinking any less, either. As for the invention of adult beverages, humans have made both wine and beer for so long that their dates of creation have been lost in the mists of time. Scientists recently discovered earthenware jars containing wine residue that indicated humans were guzzling fermented grape juice more than 8,000 years ago, and beer is the subject of the oldest recorded recipe in the world — instructions that were found on ancient Egyptian papyrus scrolls that date back to 5,000 B.C.
- Soap — You’ve got to give people something to do during a pandemic to make them feel like they are pitching in, and for Americans the instructions are clear: wash your hands, thoroughly and repeatedly. As soon as we get back from our allotted exercise walks we head dutifully to the sink for our required 20-second bout with lathering, scrubbing, and rinsing. It may not sound like much, but those constant 20-second scrubbings add up and help to pass the slow-moving quarantine time, and they make us feel good about doing our part. Soap also dates back thousands of years, with historians believing that the Babylonians invented the first soap, made from fats boiled with ashes, about 5,000 years ago.
- Canned food and crock pots — It’s probably safe to say that people are cooking more at home than they’ve done in the last 50 years, and because there’s an interest in trying to minimize trips to the grocery store, people are trying to stretch their food stores and leftovers farther than ever before. That’s where canned food and crock pots really strut their stuff. In fact, I think it is safe to say that no single device is more adept at converting aging leftovers into tasty meals than the crock pot. Whether it’s stews made of random items hauled from the cupboard, or last night’s chili made with leftover meat loaf, leftover sausage, a can of black beans, some chopped onions, and liberal doses of Texas Pete’s hot sauce and sriracha sauce, our crock pot has been a high-producing kitchen item during the last few weeks. The smells coming from the crock pot also help to make the quarantine household a happy place, too. Canned foods were first invented more than 200 years ago, and the first slow cookers — the precursors to the crock pot, which was first call the “bean pot” — were invented about 80 years ago.
- PCs — Where would we be without personal computers and laptops? For many of us, they are the one, essential device that allows us to work from home, and without them the unemployment statistics in America would be much, much worse. They also allow us to get the latest news with a few touches of keyboard buttons, and to catch up on our friends and check out the latest coronavirus memes and political rants on social media websites. The laptop PC is the fulcrum that has moved the working world, and the COVID-19 quarantine is the singular event that will probably change our approach to how people work and do business, forever. The first personal computer — the Altair 8800 — was invented in 1975, and the first laptop — which weighed more than 30 pounds, incidentally — was released in 1981.
- Netflix and other streaming services — One very popular topic among friends on social media these days is swapping information about nightly viewing options. Everybody’s got an opinion, because we’re all watching a lot of TV during this shut-in period, and we’re running through viewing options faster than ever before. (The ten episodes of season three of Ozark, for example, flew by far too quickly.) Netflix and other streaming services allow us to pick from an enormous array or TV shows and movies, old and new, and then advise our friends on whether options like Tiger King or Messiah are worth checking out. What would we do without constant entertainment? Netflix first started streaming content in 2007 — just in the nick of time, relatively speaking.
So there you have it — millennia of human invention and creativity, all combining to make the Great Coronavirus Crisis of 2020 a bit more tolerable for American shut-ins. Thanks to the ancient winemakers, the Egyptians and Babylonians, and the techno-geeks and food canners. We owe you a great debt of gratitude.
And now, it’s time to check out a few websites and think about what we’ll be making for dinner tonight.