On Friday, March 13, the novel coronavirus went from being a mysterious illness that had upended my teaching to something that invaded my home and health.
Two days earlier, I had received a message from the president of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor telling us to cancel classes for a couple of days and to resume teaching the following Monday "remotely, in alternative formats." My recent research and writing concern on sociability — in public places like coffeehouses — and its crucial role in the production of modern culture. Given that I was unlikely to meet face to face with my students or colleagues for the foreseeable future, I was about to experience the importance of sociability firsthand.
Like many faculty members that week, I attended workshops on remote teaching that had been quickly organized by our instructional-technology office. I was trying to learn the pros and cons of various teaching platforms and methods in a desperate attempt to salvage my courses. Meanwhile, my oldest son was traveling back home from his own campus after his spring-break plans collapsed. My wife, a busy caterer in a university town, discovered that all of her events had been suspended until further notice. My youngest son’s public school closed abruptly.