At a Distance book by Spencer Bailey and Andrew Zuckerman
Photo: Andrew Zuckerman

Introducing The Slowdown’s First Book, “At a Distance: 100 Visionaries at Home in a Pandemic”

Published with Apartamento, the book synthesizes our At a Distance podcast into a curated collection of timeless wisdom and forward-thinking perspectives.
By Tiffany Jow
November 15, 2021
4 minute read

When experiencing a crisis, some people see opportunities—for reflection, change, or innovation—that they might not recognize otherwise. Our At a Distance podcast was created during (and as a result of) perhaps the widest-reaching calamity in human history—the Covid-19 pandemic—with the intention of capturing some of the most urgent and critical thinking to emerge out of it from a wide range of voices, including environmentalist and journalist Bill McKibben, psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, MoMA curator Paola Antonelli, biologist Merlin Sheldrake, artist Sanford Biggers, novelist Hari Kunzru, philosopher Kate Soper, and landscape architect Walter Hood. Now translated into book format, At a Distance: 100 Visionaries at Home in a Pandemic (Apartamento), out today, presents a selection of these conversations in physical form. The book’s introduction, written by our co-founders, Spencer Bailey and Andrew Zuckerman, and republished here, provides a window into how the effort came together, and why it transcends the current moment.

By mid-2020, after much of the world had been in lockdown for months due to Covid-19, those of us who were fortunate enough to comfortably stay at home and consider the magnitude of the pandemic experienced something similar to what astronauts describe as the “overview effect.” Operating from what felt like our own space stations, we were looking out at the world around us through our windows and screens in awe of the unknowability of it all.

As time went on, the pandemic asked us to consider our relationships to practically everything, down to the microbial level. This moment in biological history revealed something profoundly broken about human relationships to the planet—and to one another.

Born into that uncertainty, At a Distance was, in essence, a Zoom-enabled curatorial effort. We created the podcast to highlight the importance of the humanities and social sciences for thinking through global, societal-level problems, calling on leading minds from around the world. The conversations focused on what matters most, now and in the future: the climate crisis, food systems, political and governmental structures, narrative warfare, the failed promises of Big Tech, racial justice, inequality, public health, and human rights. The notion of what defines a “good life” came up again and again.

While the topics discussed varied widely from guest to guest, we always asked the same parting question: What’s your greatest hope when we emerge from this? The answers were remarkably consistent: Each guest hoped we wouldn't lose the thinking—the zoomed-out point of view—that the pandemic afforded us.

As the strange year continued to unfold, it became clear to us that this deep thinking should be given physical form. With this book, featuring 100 edited and annotated texts from interviews recorded between March 2020 and May 2021, readers can draw on the thinking of those that we spoke with—environmentalists, economists, microbiologists, artists, philosophers, and others—organized chronologically, and with notes that unpack and contextualize some of the ideas and events that shaped these potent perspectives.

This book is a compass for navigating the long now.

Purchase At a Distance: 100 Visionaries at Home in a Pandemic here.