A week or so ago one of Sage’s relatives posted a question by email to a number of us. What do we think is going to change after the pandemic – how will places like movie theatres and restaurants fare afterward? It is interesting interesting to think about. At the same time, I should say my perspective is from a pretty narrow perspective. This is more “How will my life change?” than “How will the world change?”. Where we were both physically and socioeconomically before the pandemic hit will most definitely affect how things are going while in lockdown and afterward.
I think there will be differences between how our countries change – and a lot of this depends on what we do in response to the virus. There’s a TON (and I mean a TON) of work done in my industry. Several promising vaccines are entering clinical trials already with more on the way. Therapies to treat the virus based on existing approved drugs have been in clinical trials for a few weeks now – and those can go quickly because there is less data needed. We already know they’re safe, so we’re just checking efficacy. So best case, we see some treatments in a few months and a vaccine in 18-24 months. Supply chains for these are already in place. The end result of this is that we’re going to start seeing resolutions soon. And looking toward my friends in China – they’re already heading toward normal. In Shanghai my friend tells me everything is back to normal with the exception of schools being remote for now.
That said, at least in Canada there’s lots of talk about repatriating a lot of our manufacturing. We have seen vulnerabilities in our supply chain. The fact that the US president could tell 3M “Don’t send any masks to Canada.” makes many of us ask ourselves if this would be an issue if we hadn’t sent much of our manufacturing offshore. This could be a significant job creator. I think many in the service industry aren’t there because they enjoy waiting tables or have no other skills. That’s just the job that happened to be there to pay the rent.
I think here in Toronto we’ll see restaurants take a hit but not necessarily a fatal one. Many are still open and delivering food and people here are really devoted to supporting small businesses. The one I’m really worried about is the airline and tourism industries. These are going to be hit hard. Of course the question in my mind is if this is, in the long term, a bad thing. Our reduced consumption has resulted in an incredible improvement in the environment. Pollution levels are visibly lower in Toronto – I can *literally* see 60-80 miles from our apartment now. In Delhi, where it was so smoky that when I came back from there in January my coat smelled like the city for two weeks afterward, the air is now as clean as it is here in Toronto. Yesterday the pollution levels were higher in Concord, New Hampshire than Delhi. Delhi – where some mornings it is so smoky that it looks like there is dense fog. In the mornings now I can hear birds from the ravine outside and can smell the trees and river below. At night I often hear coyotes calling to one another. Nature’s impression of the pandemic is, no doubt, very different than humanity’s.
The optimist in me hopes we’ll learn from this. My entire team is working from home with only some people going to the site on an as-needed basis (we’re building a vaccine manufacturing plant – critical work these days as you might imagine) and so traffic is nonexistent. What if we started looking at working from home more (but maybe not exclusively)? Rotate every other day in the team and you cut traffic and emissions in half. What if we start looking at our own needs? We have bought very little lately – and in our culture we think that’s generally a bad thing. We’re meant to purchase things to “keep the economy going” – but what if we scaled all this down – and not at the expense of those making $15/hour but those making billions?
How about socially and culturally? We might go to the movies still – but likely not. It was already a dying industry thanks to so many people now having Netflix and some even have a home theatre. Here, theatre chains are now “renting” first-run movies. This may be the new model.
The big changes I see are going to be cultural. I see boundaries around handshaking and hugging changing a lot – at least in the short-term. I think we’ll see personal space expectations grow also. This will be hard in cities. Just a week before our state of emergency was declared I was on a city bus so packed I was touching three people just standing still. Will we put up with that in the future?
I also see many people starting to get a grasp of what matters to them. We’re not going out shopping, we’re connecting online. We’re also connecting with people around the world. I hosted a book club with people from three countries now and the next one will have a few more countries. Sage and I have “games day” with people from around the world. Last week there was a storytelling show online with people from Canada, the US, Iran, and Australia. The pandemic has become that “common enemy” that brings us together in a way that sociologists have talked about for years. I know one friend who produces a local storytelling show has already said that after he resumes live shows, he’s still going to keep a livestream to include people from outside the city. And the other great thing about all this connection is that those who were *already* shut in due to disability or immune-deficiency will also be able to join.
I’m fascinated with the direction we could be heading. I think it’s giving us a chance to look at our culture and see what our values really are. On the subject of businesses, I just saw an article this morning in which our mayor has called upon the province to ban business evictions. Our government is putting lots of money in to supporting people through this – about $2,000/month per person to the unemployed which isn’t great but will help. Will this encourage us to in the future to support those in need now that more of us have been “those in need?” Will we see changes like basic income become more common?
Our economy is going to take a hit for sure – but then I see other industries and think that we may see others do really well. Food delivery, Amazon.com, and of course the pharmaceutical especially are going to come out ahead.
What do you think is going to be different in the future?