One of the unanticipated consequences of COVID-19 is that we can no longer justify the sloth we once enjoyed in idle moments caused by Acts of God. Snow days, leaves on the line – these once perfect excuses to sit in front of the telly with bag of Doritos have been stolen back into productivity by connectivity – and not just because we have digital access, but also because we’ve got really good at using it.


Offices that never imagined committing to remote working now expect employees to carry on as normal when transport is down. When plagues of locusts swarm, school schedules migrate online. In this new normal, Oz’s Dorothy would have been expected to log in to classes while her house was sucked into the tornado’s vortex. And that would have been a terrible mistake.

If, during the initial lockdowns, you were one of the enviable people who didn’t need to provide full-time care or have a job on the frontline, you might feel you’ve had enough days off, albeit somewhat of a distant memory by now. But emergency procedures are put into place for a reason. When I was at school near Washington, DC, we were sent home once due to the threat of a hurricane. While we didn’t get hit, Hurricane Hugo caused more than $7bn of damage to South Carolina. When you got a day off, it was serious.

Illustration of a person sledding down the lid of a laptop © Harrison Clough
© Harrison Clough

This epic event has broken our economies and our mental wellbeing. We had to come up with solutions, which we did – thank you, internet. The challenge now is to know when to apply those solutions, and when a moment warrants calling an old fashioned in-front-of-the-TV-with-a-bag-of-Doritos snow day.

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Back in December 2020, our kid’s school was closed when a blizzard hit the east coast of the US. Our online school protocols were already in place because we’d been doing remote classes for three months. But rather than asking us to log our kids in for a new-normal day at home, the principal reminded us that this was serious.

“This has been a hard year for everyone, including our children,” he wrote in an email. “Many of the joys of childhood have been curtailed due to very necessary safety restrictions. However, playing outside in the snow, albeit with masks and social distancing, need not be one of these,” he continued.

“A snow day is a joy of childhood, and we should not let it be taken away from our students as a by-product of COVID-19.”

We don’t always need to use our technological solutions as a workaround for epic events, just because we can. They can normalise things that are big deals, and should be treated so. Calling a day off when Mother Nature interjects gives us a moment to reflect on the awesome thing that’s occurred, and its impact on both our fellow humans and the infrastructures that keep ‘normal’ ticking over.

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Social psychologist, broadcaster and journalist. She writes and broadcasts about technology and interactivity, and she presents Digital Human on BBC Radio 4. She is the author of Untangling the Web: What the Internet is Doing to You.