How to Create a Compelling COVID-19 Pandemic Scrapbook
One of my favorite school assignments, when I was a little boy, was to interview someone who was an adult during the Great Depression. Because my mom and I moved in with my grandmother when I was 5, I didn’t have to go far to find an interview subject. My grandmother told me all about life as a young wife and mother in the early 1930s.
However, it wasn’t a “show and tell,” but rather just a “tell.” My grandmother had photos, but they were family photos, not one which revealed anything about the Depression. She didn’t have any other forms of media she could share.
I still managed to get an A+ report from her stories, but imagine if my grandmother had lived in the age of technology! She would have had audio, video, clipped web pages, and who knows what other resources to share with me.
This pandemic is a once-in-100-years phenomenon that (let’s hope) our children and grandchildren won’t experience in their lifetime. In this article, I will share some ideas for how you can record personal memories to pass on to future generations.
Where to create your COVID-19 scrapbook?
Keep in mind that this is going to be something to be shown to people 50, even 75 years from now. Electronic storage methods are going to change a lot during that time.
If your computer has a recordable DVD-R drive, don’t even think of creating your scrapbook on a DVD. Those drives are already going the way of the dinosaurs. Modern computers often don’t even come with them.
A USB drive is a reasonable solution. However, we’re already on version 3.0 of USB storage. What version will we be on in 50 years, 23.0? Your 2020-era USB device may not even be readable, or you might have to pay a restoration service extra to be able to access the data. There’s also the issue that USB drives are little, and therefore easy to lose.
My recommendation would be that you create a folder for your scrapbook on a free cloud-based storage service such as Dropbox or Google Drive. These services, or perhaps companies that buy out these services in the future, are likely to keep up to date with the times. Your best bet might be a Dropbox or Google Drive folder with the data backed up on USB.
What to include in your COVID-19 scrapbook
If my grandmother had any media to show me about the Great Depression, it would likely have been news clippings from the large media companies of the day. Maybe if I were really lucky, she would have had a newsreel on film produced by a large media conglomerate of the era.
Back in her day, though, the media were the only ones producing content. These days, everyone can be a content producer, and nearly everyone is, thanks to social media.
There’s nothing wrong with including news articles and videos in your scrapbook, but make it personal, too. Incorporate not only your own words, but of those you follow, to make the experience personal.
What was life like during lockdown?
Where I live, we were under a Safer at Home order from March 20 to May 3, 2020. Non-essential employees had to work from home or were laid off or furloughed. Restaurants could sell take-out orders only. Bars, gyms, and hair salons had to close. I imagine most of you found yourself under a similar order, although the time frame may have been sooner or later, longer or shorter.
How did you cope? How did you deal with the boredom of having nothing to do 24 hours a day, for days and weeks on end? What mementos can you share of your coping strategies?
For example, I joined the all-you-can-read book subscription service Scribd and spent most of April with my nose in an (electronic) book. So my scrapbook might include screenshots of my Scribd library, and perhaps summaries of books I read.
If you were more of a video person, perhaps you would want to screen capture your personal library page on your video service of choice. YouTube junkies, you could include URLs of videos you watched over and over again during lockdown.
Did you eat anything yummy to help you cope, and if so, did you get pictures? Those would be great additions to your scrapbook. A restaurant called Global Cafe expanded delivery to my door, allowing me to try Colombian, Syrian, and Sudanese dishes at home.
If you didn’t take pictures of your own, remember that you can right-click most any image on the web (such as the Photos section of a restaurant website) and choose Save image as… to save a local copy. Since you’re saving this to a personal (unpublished) scrapbook, you shouldn’t need permission to capture the images.
What did these phrases mean to you? Document them in your scrapbook using whatever media describes them best to you.
- Social distancing
- Physical distancing (maybe a web clipping or video describing why we should call it that and not social distancing)
- The new normal
- Contactless delivery
- Flattening the curve
- Alone, together
- Any others I missed? If you’re a data junkie you might want to include terms like positivity rate, replication rate, duplication rate.
What were the little things that bothered you? This is a way to make your scrapbook personal. What is something about the pandemic that irritated you that most people wouldn’t have even noticed?
For me, it was preachy Twitter screen names. One of our County Commissioners changed her screen name from Terri Snyder (name changed) to Terri Snyder Says Stay Home! A local artist, Sally Blair (name changed), changed her screen name to Sally “Wear A Mask” Blair. Even though the orders they were barking were rock solid, preachy screen names reminded me of all the things I couldn’t do during lockdown.
Official directives and press releases
If your county’s health department has the current and previous health directives on their website in PDF format, it might be good to right-click them and save them to your scrapbook.
If your health department has weekly press conferences, or if the local news media interviews prominent doctors on progress and setbacks during the pandemic, that would be good to add to a multimedia scrapbook.
Of course, you would want to feel free to add comments to any of these items to reflect what they meant to you personally. For example, as of today in my city, I can walk down the street and get a beer at my neighborhood bar. However:
- I have to purchase food with my beer; depending on the restaurant’s license my total expense on food may have to exceed my total expense on alcohol
- Food service is limited to two hours, which means staying to watch an entire American football game is out of the question
- I can’t sit or stand at a bar area — however, I can sit at a table pushed up next to the bar area
- I can only sit with 5 other people at my table (3 adults, 2 children) and they must be from my household
- I have to have my mask on anytime I am not actively eating or drinking, anytime I get up from my table, and any time my server is at the table
- I have to be out of there by 10 p.m., the health department-mandated closing time
These restrictions are going to seem absurd to someone reading them in 2070; yet in 2020, the only alternative is for the bars to close completely, putting many out of work.
Photos of the “new normal”
If you’re working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, get a photo of your workspace. Get screenshots of your Zoom meetings and any other special software you use to deal with remote work.
Again, make it personal; what was your reaction to working remotely? Did you miss the human interaction? Did you find remote work offered little conveniences, like being able to do loads of laundry while “at work”? Were you relieved to still have a job, and to not be exposed to COVID? Did your company force you to keep your camera on during work hours, and how did you feel about that?
If you have children who are schooling remotely, get a photo of them at their workstations. If the school will permit, get screen captures of their educational activities.
Do they miss their friends? Do they understand why homeschooling is necessary? Do you feel like they are falling behind? These are all ideas for personal notes you could attach to your pandemic photos.
You can go back in the archives of your favorite local and national news sources and save articles and videos of the various stages of the pandemic. These might include
- The early months when we were going about our normal lives and the virus was just “that thing over in China”
- Early March 2020 when the first cases were discovered on other continents, and there was that sense of “What if we have to lock down the way Wuhan did?”
- The lockdown
- Phase 1, 2, etc. of reopening, and the debate on whether we reopened too quickly
- The fall surge and, in some areas, second lockdown
- If your country had an election this year, articles on the pandemic’s effect on the election
Extreme reactions to COVID-19
It’s probably worth including in your scrapbook the most extreme reactions on either side.
It’s not hard to find blog posts, social media posts, and videos by people who think the pandemic is a hoax, foisted upon us by whatever group they oppose. They think this even though heads of many nations have been hospitalized for COVID and then there have been more than a million deaths worldwide. You may not agree with them, but their opinions are worth recording in your scrapbook. They paint a complete picture of the pandemic.
A local activist in my city made a nasty Facebook post last week. As restaurant restrictions tightened, an owner told the media that he didn’t understand the effectiveness of some of them. The activist said the restaurant owner clearly wants everyone to catch COVID, and even if you don’t catch the virus in his restaurant, you’ll catch a bad case of racism and hatred. It’s borderline libel but it’s also scrapbook-worthy to paint a full pandemic picture.
The stuff you wish you didn’t have to put in your scrapbook
If you had COVID-19, write about what it was like in your scrapbook.
- How did affect you physically?
- Did you wonder if you would ever get better, or if you would have to be rushed to the hospital?
- Are there any lingering effects since you recovered?
- Do you know how you contracted COVID-19?
- Do you feel like you got the virus because your workplace was not safe?
- Do you feel like you got the virus because you socialized more than you should have?
If anyone you loved or cared about passed away due to the virus, you could include their obituary. You could also include a note about what that person meant to you.
If you were unable to see a loved one for an extended period of time — a parent or grandparent in a nursing home, for example — you could write about the difficulties you experienced. You could also ask them to write what it was like from their perspective.
You could include layoff or furlough notices, copies of cover letters applying for temporary work or unemployment benefits, and other evidence of how your job situation was affected by the pandemic.
Even if you had no negative personal experiences, if you experienced a constant sense of fear and uneasiness, write about that. For example, in the U.S. we recently celebrated Thanksgiving. I went over to my friends Randy and Theresa’s house. We watched college basketball, had turkey and ham, then finished it off with apple pie and homemade ice cream. It was a wonderful holiday. Yet this thought was in the back of my mind:
There’s a chance I could be killing my friends right now.
Because 20–30% of those with COVID display no symptoms at all, there’s a chance I was positive, or one of them was positive, and we didn’t know it. It’s a fear that’s in our minds every time we go to a grocery store, or to the bank, or to work.
Unexpected positive outcomes of the pandemic
Did anything good happen that would not have happened in a normal year? What articles, photos, videos, and personal stories could you include to document those situations and events?
- Did your family grow closer as a result of being forced to spend so much time together?
- Has remote work become a way of life in your company’s culture that will last beyond COVID? Will increased flexibility and freedom at your job be the new normal?
- Did you develop a new hobby, skill, or side hustle during your time away from work and social activities?
- Do you have any stories about how your community became more tight-knit because you all worked together to survive the pandemic?
To wrap it up…
Hopefully, a disease that threatens the lives of so many will never again be seen in our time, or our children’s, or our grandchildren’s. Because this virus can spread asymptomatically, it is an unprecedented threat.
We also live in unprecedented times because every one of us is a content creator. We can write, we can record video, we can capture the content of others, all describing what this pandemic was like, both for us personally and for the society in which we live.
Create your own electronic time capsule documenting your experience, and you’ll have a gift to share with your children, grandchildren, and even generations you did not have enough time on this earth to meet.
Thanks for reading. If you have ideas for a pandemic scrapbook that I overlooked, feel free to leave them in the comments. If you’d like to read more posts from me, you can sign up for my mailing list and I will keep you informed when new ones are published.