Depending on where you are in the world, your life might be looking very different right now. If you are in China, you are probably relieved that the Coronavirus outbreak has done its worst for now, but afraid of additional waves coming in from other countries. If you live in Europe, you are probably experiencing your first weeks or days in complete isolation and perhaps even under house arrest. In the US, people are now starting to go through the same experiences us Europeans have had about a month ago. Curiously, it seems that the Coronavirus really is moving from East to West, at least when it comes to people’s and government’s reactions.
Now we’ve had a few articles talking about the pandemic from various perspectives already. We have covered why panic is a bad idea and how it can infect your minds with dangerous ideas and fake news. We’ve also had a look at how the pandemic has changed our work lives and how it can change our behaviour longterm. So today, let us look at the silver linings of monumental crises like this; namely, the chance for real change.
Our last article already partially covered that there may be some silver linings to the coronavirus crisis, as there are to almost every crisis, though often unseen.
However, today, let us look at the biggest changes we are facing and the greatest opportunities we are presented with.
Changes to the World Economy
By now, we understand just how severe the crisis really is. We don’t know how long our lockdowns will remain in effect, in fact, no one does. A vaccine (which is not to be confused with a cure) is between 12 and 18 months away. Until then, the virus will continue to rampage through the world and it is likely the majority of the world population will be infected. The lockdowns are not going to prevent that. They are not meant to either. The strategy governments pursue is simple: Reduce the amount of simultaneous infections, so that health care providers do not get overloaded with too many requests and shut down, causing even more deaths. At the same time, complete lockdowns like this are wreaking havoc to the world economy. This affects our governments’ budgets and by extension, the budgets of our health care systems. In other words, governments are facing a terrible dilemma. Both increasing and decreasing restrictions to public life will result in more human deaths. It has come down to a callous numbers game. How long can we afford to slow down our economies to minimise casualties, before the economic meltdown starts to kill more people in itself?
Anyone with a bit of sense will look at this disaster and say: “Hol’ up a minute! So whatever we do, people will die? We should probably change the rules of the game.”
There are two obvious solutions we could implement.
- If we can accurately identify the most vulnerable to the virus, we should segregate the vulnerable and create safe zones for them, where they can stay without any risk of contamination. We have enough space for this. There are unused rural areas all over Europe and we have been quick to construct refugee camps in 2015, some of which are not even currently in use. Why not treat those who are likely to die, the same way? They are essentially refugees, fleeing impending death. They require shelter, provisions and some compensation. Once we have sheltered those most vulnerable, we can afford to let the disease run through the general population and health care services will be able to cope with the few that will still show some symptoms, while everything goes back to normal. A few months later, the quarantined people can return to their homes and livelihoods without any danger and the crisis will be averted.
- If the above solution is not possible, because the disease affects everyone differently, we have to think of a change to our economic system. This is a pandemic. It is in the word, it affects the entire globe and every national economy. But the world economy is a closed system. So if we are all affected, why are we all borrowing money from each other? Would it not make more sense for every country to come to the table and for us to collectively cut interest rates and debt levels? It would be the perfect opportunity for the world to hit the reset button on our endless debt spiral. You might say, why would creditors participate in this and lose out on all the money they are owed? Two reasons:
First, the full economic meltdown we are experiencing now is going to make them poorer than any debt cuts. Any investments they might have are currently losing value rapidly and even government bonds and currencies are being devalued like there is no tomorrow. But if we all agree to debt cuts, the economies will stabilise and the money everyone already has will increase in value.
The second reason is less economical and more humanitarian. The disease does not care how much money you have. It will get you and when it does, there is no medicine in the world money can buy that will cure you. Viral diseases are entirely up to the human immune system to fight. So even if you were to not care about any of the people around you, if you youself want to not get it, it is in your interest to ensure governments have the resources to fight the spread of the disease.
But no matter if any of these measures are actually taken in the end, the world economy will be reshaped by this crisis and one thing is certain, the future economy is digital.
The Digital Revolution will pick up the pace
We have already taken our first steps into the Digital Revolution, what we refer to as the Digital Transformation. This is nothing else than the digitalisation of previously analouge services, such as governmental administration and business. We are nearly at the point, where the Digital Transformation is complete, which is still only the starting point for the Digital Revolution, which is a complete overhaul of society with the help of emerging technologies.
The current crisis is accelerating the Digital Transformation, particularly in the public sector, where it has been seriously lagging behind.
Most schools are not equipped when it comes to technology. Some schools are still teaching today, using overhead projectors. This is a technology that was used to teach my parents’ generation. I was taught the same way and so are some children today. Education has not changed much in 200 years, but now the crisis may be forcing us to bring it forward into the 21st century. Digital classrooms had to be installed fairly quickly and while the transition was messy, digital classrooms may just be here to stay long-term. Some schools will undoubtedly return to their old practices after the crisis is averted, but some others may not and those will be the schools that will pioneer new forms of education. Before you will know it, these schools will attain higher scores across the board, their students will be admitted to better universities and get better jobs and this will make those schools that are resistent to change, follow suit. As always, with education, this will be a long pain-staking process, but this crisis right here, is the turning point, at which education reform will kickstart in Europe.
As remote work becomes the norm and jobs are increasingly only available online, because companies will choose to reduce their physical offices and save money (freeing up housing space in the process), regulation will have to change to make it easier for companies to hire people remotely worldwide. Right now, hiring people online is a hassle and a tax nightmare. But start-ups have been working on workarounds for years. Now, governments will have to face the changing nature of businesses and start regulating accordingly. At the very least, we will get a better system that will allow us to avoid double taxation, while also decreasing tax evasion, at best, we might finally move towards a harmonised tax system in the EU that will truly grant us EU citizens freedom of movement and unleash the economic potential of the bloc.
These economic changes will go hand in hand with social changes that affect how we interact with each other.
Changes to Social Customs
Handshakes are a thing of the past. As are kisses on the cheek. Hugs are reserved to the very closest of friends. More and more people are discussing how they now greet people they know if they happen to meet them in the street and while some prefer a simple hand gesture, many others are now looking to cultures in the East, such as Japan, where it is customary to greet each other with a respectful bow. Physical contact is generally avoided and reserved only for very close friends and family members under appropriate circumstances.
This may very well be a first change to European culture’s social norms. But it is only the beginning. How we interact with our friends and loved ones is likely to change as well. You cannot quite tell just yet, but how we interact with each other is already changing. Sure, school children are not showing up for online classes, because they think they now have a free holiday due to the outbreak and productivity levels are down. But this is only a momentary first effect of public lockdowns. Within a two weeks time, people get over the shock and adjust to their new circumstances. New jobs start being offered and people adjust to digital working tools and meetings.
The first week of the lockdown was relatively quiet. People were texting about the news from time to time, but then things calmed down, as everyone tried to process what was happening. Then, people started sharing MEMEs with each other. Lots of them. I have not recieved this many messages and phone calls in a long time and I have noticed not only the urge to talk to more people, but also that people are more likely to open up and share their feelings and what they are doing in their private lives online than ever before. If anything, this crisis is making everyone more open and social. People are now looking to online chat, play games together and even go on virtual dates.
If the lockdowns are lifted soon, this may all disappear, but as social distancing will certainly continue to be enforced for at least a few more months if not even until we have a vaccine ready, people might very well get used to this new reality. The use of video games is at an all-time high. Once people realise how they can help them stay connected to their friends and loved-ones, even if they are far away, they might not want to stop; especially if they make new friends online.
The boost the video game industry has received, may also lead to the creation of more widely accessible AAA games that will be able to compete with the likes of Candy Crush, Clash of Clans and other mobile game titans that cater towards casual gamers.
Similarly, governments are now offering increasingly sophisticated online administration applications that speed up the bureaucracy significantly and make it far easier to complete simple taks that had previously meant day-long queues. A roll-back of these features is unthinkable.
In other words, we can expect a lot more digital interactions between people. But there is even more to it.
We will become healthier. While many of us are afraid of putting on weight, because we are stuck at home, those same people are starting to pick up new healthy hobbies, such as yoga and home exercise. Without the daily work commute, there is also more time for balanced and healthy meals, as well as home cooking. We are bound to become more conscious about what and how much we eat, even if it might take us some more time to adjust to this new situation.
But just think of the amount of alcohol you consume. Some people drink at home, but most people only drink when they are at social gatherings with friends or at events, or enjoying a good meal at a restaurant. Staying at home, some of us may even have stopped drinking all together, which is a good thing for our longterm health.
Home Sweet Home
Homes will become more important than ever before. Right now, many people live in tiny apartments or even just rooms in shared apartments in big cities, because that’s where their jobs are and where they need to be. Bigger housing is unaffordable and the commute to work each day would be to expensive and exhausting. So we content ourselves with the tiny places we can afford in the big city. After all, we rarely are there anyway, right?
Now that our homes are returning to being the centre of our lives, their values are bound to go up in our minds. Even more expensive, you ask?
Well, not necessarily. Because, inner-city apartments might become less attractive to us. What is the point of living in a tiny place, crammed in with everyone else (and exposing ourselves to contagions) if we can have a nice little house outside of town? A garden is all the more precious. It is a patch of nature you can keep all to yourself. And this crisis is only the beginning. Once people wake up and realise that there are many big dangers to living in large cities with complete dependencies on digitally operated heat, electricity and water grids, which are increasingly vulnerable to attacks and malfunctions, they might prefer to live self-sufficiently outside of cities.
Much like the US before us, Europeans might now turn their attention towards the suburbs, deflating the values of inner-city homes, so that those who actually have to go to work physically, will be able to afford living there again, while the rest of us can live outside of cities, closer to nature and working digitally.
Food and medicine is being delivered to us regularly now. And this could spell the end of grocery stores, or at the very least big super markets. Because small specialised grocery shops are great for those special need items you can’t get anywhere else, or if you just ran out of milk or flour and you need it right away to complete your recipe. But for big shopping? You just order that online. Why would you go outside to do that? It takes unnecessary time, stresses us, there is no guarantee we will even get all of the products we need, we might even spend more money on products we don’t actually need and we have to be in confined spaces with many other people. Everything about supermarkets is terrible and not at all convenient, compared to online shopping.
Most importantly, when everything we do and care about revolves around our homes, we will want bigger homes with everything we need and only want to venture outside, when we absolutely have to. That is, when we want to experience nature, do physical activities with friends, such as sports, to travel, or to meet for parties. But even parties might change in the long-run.
Some people will always party without a second thought and we may even develop a subculture for those sweaty raves that The Matrix: Reloaded has burned into our brains forever. But it is very likely that regular parties will change. On the one hand, house parties might become more numerous, but probably with fewer people. After all, would you like to have a bunch of strangers trash your place, only for you to catch a disease upon clean-up the next morning? Party crashing may even become socially unacceptable as a result.
So for bigger parties, private venues will continue to be important and may grow in importance in parts of Europe, where they have not played a big role so far. At the same time, many international events and conferences may now switch to digital events, or at least allow for digital participation, to increase accessibility and reduce travel costs. After all, when you already have access to the digital infrastructure post-crisis, why not continue to use it?
All of these changes will inevitably have effects on our economy, prompting new types of businesses and applications to emerge, which will in turn affect our social behaviour, and thus the next generation born ten years from now, may not be able to even relate to what life was like in 2019 and before.
But it is up to us, living and breathing change today, to determine what this new future will look like and which customs, norms and systems we wish to abandon, or redevelop and what we aim to keep alive for future generations.
Let us know, what you think the future will look like, what you’d like to see change and what you definitely want to preserve as an experience for future generations.