The Virtual Renaissance

New York Times Student Editorial Contest Finalist


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it great social disorder. Many call it a “new normal.” Society has finally fully embraced technology: all commerce displaced by virtual retailers, all communication performed via social media, and all 3 a.m. TacoBell orders executed by delivery. 

Is it possible that we find it easier and safer to live virtually? Could these temporary emergency measures mature into lasting societal norms? And is this the beginning of our virtual renaissance? One thing we do know is that history loves to repeat itself.

In the 1400s, a plague-recovering Europe found itself on a new societal foundation with a revised perspective on the world. Accordingly, Europe erupted into a Renaissance of aesthetic expression and socio-political upheaval. As Khan Academy describes, “With so much land readily available to survivors, the rigid hierarchical structure that marked pre-plague society became more fluid.” People emerged from their homes, and they began to harness something that they relied on throughout their arduous quarantine: the power of the individual. 

We can draw many similarities to today. National and local quarantines across the globe have placed people in an “unprecedented” environment. Trapped inside homes and apartments, we have to rely on technology to function in almost all facets of our lives. Kevin Roose, a technology columnist from the New York Times, describes that “The virus is forcing us to use the internet as it was always meant to be used — to connect with one another, share information and resources.” We are entering our own age of discovery, finding that the novelties of the outside world have been provided at our fingertips all along.  We replicated most of the functions of the real world in a virtual setting. 

In a very Renaissance-esque way, social organizations are addressing educational and digital inequity by providing laptops and internet access to poor communities. (New York Times)  It seems that while we are all confined at home, we begin to recognize the drastic differences in what “home” is to so many people.  As a result, technology has become the great equalizer with education, living assistance, and communication developed through the demand for technology infrastructure. We see that in a time of separation, activists have harnessed the internet to form reform movements and online communities, fighting for equality through advocacy and lobbying.  Hope during the pandemic is stronger than ever. People have harnessed their devices, video calls, and social medias to expand their individual powers.

Instead of dipping into humanism and the fine arts, our Renaissance subsists through technology and artificial means. Michelangelo has stated that “A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.” It seems that our canvases are tablets and screens. The COVID-19 pandemic was the push for many markets to digitize, and it has created massive economical and political upheaval. 

The times we live in are far less “unprecedented” than commonly branded. Now is the perfect opportunity where we can harness history to act in the present and create a more preventative future. The virtual renaissance is in full gear, and we must embrace it. Then, we can forge our own version of the Statue of David and paint our own Mona Lisa.

Marcus, Hannah. “What the Plague Can Teach Us About the Coronavirus.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Mar. 2020,

Roose, Kevin. “The Coronavirus Crisis Is Showing Us How to Live Online.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 Mar. 2020, Accessed 23 Mar. 2020.

Scheiber, Nelson, and Hsu. “’White-Collar Quarantine’ Over Virus Spotlights Class Divide.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 27 Mar. 2020,

Woodville, Louisa. “The Black Death (Article).” Khan Academy, Khan Academy,