Contributing to the COVID-19 time capsule

I would not have expected it if a future version of myself came to warn me. The COVID-19 pandemic hurled countries all over the world into chaos, and life as we knew it came to a screeching halt. Family and friends are now forbidden, businesses hang apologetic notes on their closed doors, and repeating messages urge, “Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Practice social distancing.”

We are living in a pivotal and historical moment. I hear words like “personal protection equipment,” “quarantine,” and “new normal” on a daily basis. Though it is draining, this “new normal” is something worth documenting as we hope that we can someday go back to the old normal without fear—crowded theme parks, shoulder-to-shoulder concerts, hugging our grandparents.

To increase the documentation of this crazy, unprecedented time, I made two contributions to the digital project, A Journal of the Plague Year: an Archive of COVID19.

The first contribution is a tweet containing a spin on The Beatles’ iconic walk across Abbey Road.1 The Beatles can be seen strolling while social distancing, which means there is at least six feet between each individual.

The second contribution is an article relating to public relations, a field in which I hope to work. The writer, a public relations professional, advises businesses how to communicate with their publics throughout the pandemic.2

In times of uncertainty and moments that are particularly extraordinary, digital collections respond as a way to share experiences and store them neatly online like a time capsule. When the pandemic is over, the digital memory bank will still stand, and we can use it to reflect on the year the entire world faced the same enemy.

I found it surprising how easily I could find so many memes and resources related to COVID-19 so quickly. People immediately resorted to humor and helpfulness when the pandemic hit home, and the response is massive. There are few people unaffected by COVID-19, whether the effects are emotional, physical, or financial. COVID-19 turned the whole world upside down in a matter of months, and the internet is teeming with reactions of all kinds.

In “Bias, perception, and archival praxis,” Elvia Arroyo-Ramirez asks, “Who gets to be remembered and historicized by way of record creation?” 3 She discusses how the collection of records is inherently biased, which is why digital memory banks must be available to a more diverse public for contributions.

To better connect projects like this one to a more diverse public, the project team should turn to the social media world for contributions. Social media is an easy and free method to advertise and communicate with publics, and I think project teams should utilize it as a tool to grow their base of contributors and become more mainstream and less niche. People love to share, but if they remain unaware of a sharing opportunity, they will not participate.

In “What’s Next for Digital Memory Banks?” Sheila Brennan asks, “People are sharing quite a bit within their own networks, and within networks that have specific terms of service. Will they want to share again in another web space?”4

As a public relations professional, I argue that with the right pitch, many people would appreciate the idea of contributing to a digital memory bank. Social media is full of the noise of meaningless posts. People seek likes to feel important, and therefore frequently post nonsense for a quick ego boost. And while a digital memory bank does not display or even offer the option to “like” contributions, I believe the public would be more than willing to contribute to something truly important.

Now is the time for the project group to reach into social media, while COVID-19 is still a prevalent part of the daily lives of Americans. Though I fear we are entering a long period of our “new normal,” developing a large collection of digital historical moments will help us memorialize our piece of lived history.

  1. https://covid19.omeka.net/items/show/818
  2. https://covid19.omeka.net/items/show/820
  3. “Thomas Padilla, & Elvia Arroyo-Ramirez. (2017, September 13). Bias, Perception, and Archival Praxis: A conversation between Thomas Padilla and Elvia Arroyo-Ramirez [Interview]. dh+lib. https://acrl.ala.org/dh/2017/09/13/archivalpraxis/
  4. Sheila Brennan. (2013, May 6). What’s Next for Digital Memory Banks? Lot 49. https://www.lotfortynine.org/2013/05/whats-next-for-digital-memory-banks/

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