The Super Bowl Flush
The Super Bowl Flush refers to the sudden changes in demand for water when everyone is watching the same TV program... Normally we go to the bathroom on our own schedule but if we are watching the same program and we all hold it then we will all have to go at the same time. The idea that this synchronized flush can break the system has been called into question, though pipes in Salt Lake City did fail during halftime in the 80s. Another kind of synchronized group action is marching and there is no doubt that it can break things: there have been several cases of bridges collapsing under marching soldiers. It's just not normal for us to all do the same thing at the same time, and strange things happen when we try it.
Today is my 1 year anniversary of "lock down". I started a week earlier than my colleagues because I was sick with a fever already. Since then humanity has synchronized various things that we don't normally synchronize. Large numbers of us started using Zoom. And started using our home internet during the day. And bought extra toilet paper. And stopped wearing pants. It has been a rough time for us, much rougher for some than others, but nearly everyone can agree that this sucks. We don't normally synchronize our opinion that things suck! Normally some of us are on the upswing, some headed down. What might happen as a result of this laser-like wave of negative emotion?
I've noticed an impact at work. The baseline level of emotion is at least impatient, perhaps worse. Many of us look at a small picture of ourselves all day long on Zoom, a picture of us being grumpy. And right next to our grumpy face are little versions of our coworkers. And they are also being grumpy. That's a weird thing to synchronize.
When I lived in Seattle I was surprised to learn that the roads there could only handle about half a million people a day. Like, the upper bound on the number of people that can leave western Washington state is half a million. It's a pretty impressive number, until you consider that 4 million people live in the greater Seattle metro area. All of them in the shadow of an active volcano called Mt Rainer. The mountain could explode and synchronize everyone, giving them all a burning desire to leave. And they'd all find out at the same time that it takes more than 8 days to empty Seattle using its roads. Today we are doing similar math with regard to vaccines. "At this rate I'll get my vaccine in.... 2025. Ah shit". And then we all get back on that Zoom call and make a grumpy face.
I remember when I was a kid playing on the swings. Sometimes my neighbor would swing right next to me and at the same rate. It was fun. And as we moved in lockstep together we'd yell "get out of my bathtub!". Someone suggested that this is a pun on "sink"... Sink sounds like sync, and a sink is like a small bathtub... Anyway, we did yell this and I don't really know why...
Get the hell out of my bathtub, world!