by Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ April 1, 2020
People are beginning to get the idea that this pandemic is far more significant than they thought. That is true even with a constantly shifting stream of lies and half-truths, with shelter in place being ignored, denounced, grudgingly accepted, and, then, declared finished in two or four weeks.
The weaker the manager (political ruler), the more desperate the lies to minimize a colossal disaster on their watch. There is no need to name the regressive failures, which lead the clown procession dancing frantically to stay ahead of their failing lies. It will, hopefully, someday be a great source of humor. There are few things funnier than someone else’s stupidity. But we are nowhere near that point now.
Historically, in the US, the point of similarity is 1929 and the beginnings of the Great Depression. Days after the September 1929 stock market crash, President Herbert Hoover declared that the economy was ‘fundamentally sound”. Shortly after that, he stated that “the worst was over.”
The worst was the entire decade of the 1930s. But the Great Depression was caused by many things, and the US stock market crash was only one component resulting from a classic ‘bubble’ of overvalued stocks. There was no pandemic then, but history, as attributed to Mark Twain, doesn’t repeat itself although it often rhymes.
We have said goodbye to the world of the 20th century and its bizarre outcome in the first two decades of the 21st. While the end of the 20th century is staggering at a planetary level, we all live in the mundane world of our daily existence.
In America, we have a concise view of the future as it rarely extends beyond three months. Planning beyond that involves only weddings, world tours, and enrollment in or graduation from a university. The pandemic is birthing a new awareness of time, and that includes an inkling that the future will not only be very different but also very difficult as it arrives. And the new future will with us for a long time, much longer than we have needed to consider up to now.
Andrew Sheng, the Hong Kong-based chief adviser to the China Banking Regulatory Commission, said he expects it to take a full two years of repeated lockdowns of economies around the world before a vaccine and the virus is under control. We are already seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 in the early centers of Taiwan and South Korea who had managed to prevent an overrun in the first occurrence. How many times can you dodge the bullet?
This is not two weeks to two months but two years. We won’t be locked down the whole time, but we will be in and out of that condition. Having now gone through this and watched the devastation in New York, not in some ‘foreign country,’ this thing is dangerous. Even Trump has been forced to cave into reality, a first for him. This matters because the Republican (Trump) Party is dependent on a minority of old, racist, white people in select states to finagle the electoral college. Their imminent death is the end of Trump’s party, in all senses of that word. So the sudden, belated, concern.
But the big questions now are what is going to result from this in people’s daily lives? Futurists are always careful to avoid predicting things as those actions are risky, particularly if the future is involved. That is what we spend much of our time attempting to understand. The future is, after all, history in the other direction.
One of the most substantial transformations in human history has been the sudden movement of roughly seventy million K-12 students and nineteen million university students to online learning. My own experience was moving 430 courses and four thousand students online last Monday.
Education in the US, and elsewhere more so, has been talking about creating online education for fifty years. The current issue of the Educause Journal on IT in higher ed has declared this Remote Teaching: A Glass Half-full. College and university administrations who have fought for years to prevent or, at least, avoid moving courses online in any form are facing with horror the fact that it has suddenly happened and no one died.
As with everyone else in any official position desperate to cover their ass, the focus is on this as not being real education but an interim emergency stopgap. Everything will shortly return to normal except that the initial summer session will also be online for its entirety, and no one is making any promises about normal (real) education for the second session.
This type of sudden shift is the nature of vast paradigmatic change driven by, willfully, unseen events as triggers. Amazingly the tools grabbed from the pop software hits list, e.g., Zoom, do work well enough, with massive security flaws, to allow faculty with well-organized presentations and no fear of dealing directly with students to carry on as before. But this is one of those moves that means you can never go home again. Millions of teachers are no longer virgins in online education. They are down and dirty with students online.
If this were a couple of weeks of emergency, it would be dealt with and ignored, and the massive inertia of traditional education would see it as a bump in the road. But half of the Spring 2020 semester, all of the summer and, even if, shelter in place is gone for the Fall 2020 semester it will probably come back to disrupt things again.
If you have taught college courses online, you know that many students, the number decreasing by age, adjust quickly, particularly when they discover they can ask questions whenever they need to. Online education is, despite the insistence on using the term ‘distance’ or ‘remote’ learning, it is the exact opposite of that. You cannot command the classroom from the high podium and lecture to the back wall.
Even attempting to do that with an ill-equipped video-conferencing application such as Zoom, the students are right there. You have to work to block them from interacting with you. The medium dictates the message. You will discover that it takes more work to hold artificially to the old sage on stage forms than to record your presentations and spend your time interacting with students. The student will almost all like that. Ask anyone who has done it long enough to know.
The point here is not to rehearse all the years of repeating that different students learn in different ways or that some students need in-person mentoring. We are on our third generation who spends their time socializing online with all the problems that are unique to that, but suddenly everyone is doing this, and talk of limiting screen time has disappeared.
Suddenly the fears of incipient insanity stemming from socializing online look like the evils of rock and roll in the 1950s. Somehow we all survived, and those that didn’t probably weren’t going to make it anyway. Our entire mindset shifts, and home is no longer what it once was.
With this likely to be the new normal for the next six months and periodically after that, it quickly becomes logical to keep education at least partially online with content always available to students. A steady transition to online learning should have been. Now is happening and the glass is more than half full.
The awareness that we are looking at large, permanent changes in human society is already being discussed. Concerts and festivals are almost certainly things of the past, just as huge business and technology conferences have gone away.
The most significant shift will be combining pandemic prevention with the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and resource exploitation. Air travel will become much less common, if for no other reason than most airlines will fold. As Greta Thunberg has made clear, air travel is abusive to our planet until we eliminate fossil fuels.
This is a complex, and even nonlinear, process. All of the parts are intersecting with each other and what will come out is a new way of living that will, let’s hope, allow us to hit diverse needs with the same period of pain and adjustment. People are very innovative that way when there is no choice. Pandemics are a definite ‘no choice’ motivator.
It is going to be several years before people are going to be comfortable going out in crowds. Department stores with Macy’s leading will most likely go bankrupt. If not quickly then within months. The entire social construct of mass shopping and purchasing of consumables will sharply decline.
One major reoccurrence of COVID-19 before full herd immunity is achieved will kill that impulse. We are going to be socializing online and in small, known groups for the 2020s.
Will people abandon urban life? Some will but they will come back. The value of urban life is an irresistible draw to our species, but we are learning more about how to be safe and maintain our well being in that existing environment. No past pandemic has halted the move to the great metropoles, and this may make it even stronger.
The efficiency of delivery services for anything that we want, even in quarantine or just partial isolation, plays to the same climate disaster correction that we see in air travel and tourism. The problem with Amazon now is the people who do the grunt work and take the risks of delivering millions of things to people’s homes. Eliminate that, and the problems of people living in remote small towns are stunning now. It is not that their kid’s education is limited but that it is almost non-existent in a pandemic.
Amazon is already using robotic delivery agents in select urban locations. Removing people from this part of the process will make everyone safer and happier. This automation can spread to remote towns, so that will be an option but not one that most people, mainly when they are young, will want.
Proximity to goods and food services is better for convenience and also fo reducing carbon and resource waste. That is a double win that is suddenly not just an idea but a planet level beta implementation now.
But what about the hundreds of thousands out of work? We are seeing the implementation of Universal Basic Income even in the US. This is so large a change that it is hard for people to grasp so it is being called emergency funding, unemployment insurance expansion, and various other things with the retrograde forces of the old world insisting that only the ‘deserving’ get assistance and it must all be very temporary. Good luck with that.
The inadequacy of the failing capitalist economy for this new world will become manifest as the suffering in places such as the US, operating at barely old ‘third world’ standards, result in growing outrage and actions against the regime. This will trigger asset redistribution by, initially, removing excess billionaire income that is not immediately, actively invested in community services. The implications of these shifts are similar to deciding what Galileo’s and Jansen’s microscopes were going to change in the early 1600s.
As noted above we are all going to be very slow to immerse ourselves in crowds after two years of sheltering in place and quarantine. As is already happening, the face mask is becoming a standard item of apparel. People spend large sums on an N95 medical mask. And with clothes, companies desperate to stay in business by the millions are making open masks. Obviously, style will follow.
Watching thousands of health workers in full protective gear working incredible hours every day is something people want to recognize. Clothes fashion follows what we want to be, whether military, a major US theme, or the switch to pants for women in the Rosie the Riveter model of WWII.
We increasingly see intelligent systems added to clothes for both looks and practicality. With two years of being told to wash your clothes after going out to remove viruses and the use of face masks added we might begin to pick up long, light coats for going out with stylish neck scarves that include aerators for pulling over the nose and mouth if caught in a crowd.
There will always be the reactionary that will flaunt their defiance of all change, but the authentic presence of death from pandemics will influence that also. WFH means sweats and a formal top for video conferencing, so that will spread in strange and wondrous ways. I think that it will be life as very private and casual but also very formal with lots of technology for protection from impending pandemics.
And we know there will be more. The climate disaster will unleash recurring diseases frozen for millennia in the, now thawing, permafrost. There is no apparent source of the COVID-19 virus except possible wild animal consumption in Wuhan, China, but that may have been sentinel warning of what is to come.
However, the details play out there is no going back home again. The old ways are gone and we are stuck with relearning how to live with what we have.