Editor’s Note: This article is part of “Uncharted,” a series about the world we’re leaving behind, and the one being remade by the pandemic.
This week, a new version of an old joke made the rounds: the meme of Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man, modified for a time of quarantine. @zahraloum’s update of the classic image featured, this time around, not two Spider-Men but seven—arranged in a circle, all of them pointing at one another. Each had a label: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. The image, shared with a brief commentary—“how everyday feels”—struck a chord. On Twitter, since it was posted on Tuesday, the tweet has been shared more than 350,000 times, and liked more than 1 million.
I liked it too. The tweet’s three terse words captured something about the way time works in a moment that, for many, has brought panic and pain and loneliness and fear and frustration—but also, sometimes, basic, blunt-force boredom. Days flatten into one another, Sunday and Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday, their divisions dissolving, their hours—unstructured by commutes or classes or social gatherings—liquid.
But the problem of time is also a problem of space. Homes, too, in this moment, are taking on a new kind of indeterminacy: They are now serving not only as shelter and refuge, but also as workplace and school and gym and theater and restaurant and bar and laundry and town square. They now contain, for many, an entire day’s worth of demands. But whether a house or a compact apartment, those dwellings were never meant to be as profoundly multifunctional as a shelter-in-place scenario requires them to be. American homes, Don Norman, the founding chair of the cognitive-science department at the University of California at San Diego and an advocate of user-centered design, told me, are simply not meant to be lived in 24/7.