Emerging Voices

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A Glimpse into Life Post-Pandemic

For most of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has overtaken life as we know it. Although our lives were not without stress before the virus struck, this global catastrophe has upended billions of lives worldwide. In fact, the UN’s International Labour Organization predicts 1.6 billion informal economy workers around the globe could suffer “massive damage” to their livelihoods. With the brightest minds around the world working to develop a vaccine and nations struggling to contain the overflow of hospitals, and even students struggling to adapt to new learning models, no one has been spared from the effects of this crisis. A question that seems to remain grossly overlooked, however, is “What will the world look like post-pandemic?” The answer may not be what you think.

The world will never truly return to what it was. With the pandemic comes tragedy – but also opportunity. A chance to completely reinvent life as we know it. “This isn’t a snow day where you’re waiting for the sun to shine and the world to return, because the world we have lived in for so long in many ways is never coming back,” says Jamie Metzl, technology futurist and co-founder of OneShared.World, an online group that promotes a united global response to the pandemic. Although it is impossible to know for certain the long-term effects of a global pandemic on a societal standpoint, we can make predictions.

The changes will likely be the most apparent in everyday life. Paul Freedman, an author and a history professor at Yale, predicts that communal dining, in the form of restaurants, will slowly decrease. As more and more people learn to cook during quarantine, these habits will slowly set into society itself. It wouldn’t be surprising if sit-down restaurants in Europe and the United States closed down permanently as fewer people frequent them after lockdown measures have been eased.

Another slightly more alarming prediction is by Deborah Tannen, an author, and professor of linguistics at Georgetown. “This loss of innocence, or complacency, is a new way of being-in-the-world that we can expect to change our doing-in-the-world.” As humans learn that physical contact can be dangerous, this mindset of recoiling from handshakes, wearing masks whenever possible, and even borderline-obsessive hand-washing, could likely set in permanently. As Professor Tannen theorizes, “Instead of asking, ‘Is there a reason to do this online?’ we’ll be asking, ‘Is there any good reason to do this in person?’” Our default expectation, and thus the option we are more comfortable with, will be primarily online contact. This may be nearly impossible to imagine now, especially with so many people aching to return to their normal lives, but experts predict that even a mere 10 years from now we could find ourselves in an entirely different world.

From a global standpoint, many things key to countries’ current infrastructures will be changed drastically. For example, as economist and author, Dambisa Moyo, predicts, the long-term impact of the virus will be stronger domestic supply chains. “The coronavirus pandemic will create pressure on corporations to weigh the efficiency and costs/benefits of a globalized supply chain system against the robustness of a domestic-based supply chain.” By switching to individual improved domestic supply systems, countries will effectively reduce their dependence on a fractured global supply system. As is true in almost any scenario, however, this would not be without its potential harms. Moyo adds that “…while this would better ensure that people get the goods they need, this shift would likely also increase costs to corporations and consumers.”

Economically, there will likely be both losses and gains. Some experts predict that the inequality gap will widen. As Theda Skocpol, professor of government and sociology at Harvard, speculates, “The wealthiest fifth of Americans have made greater income gains than those below them in the income hierarchy in recent decades.” Families comprised of highly-educated parents with high-paying jobs will easily adapt to the work-from-home system that many white-collar employees have shifted into during quarantine. In contrast, the remaining 80% of families, made up of single parents or single-income households, who may already be struggling to make ends meet, will not adapt as well. Some will be able to stay afloat and even adapt extremely well to their new situations – but many will struggle. As Skocpol examines, “They’re less able to work from home, and more likely employed in the service or delivery sectors, in jobs that put them at greater danger of coming into contact with the coronavirus.” The children of both families will also face vastly different futures in this new world – some will have the resources necessary to learn from home, while others simply will not, and grow up with an immense disadvantage to their wealthier peers.

A positive change, however, will be increased restraints on mass consumption. As author Sonia Shah describes, “…the trauma of the pandemic will force society to accept restraints on mass consumer culture as a reasonable price to pay to defend ourselves against future contagions and climate disasters alike.” This will have beneficial impacts, such as UBI and mandatory paid sick leave moving from the margins of policy-making to the center stage, as more people realize the devastating impact a lack of insurance can have in such times of crisis. “The end of mass quarantine will unleash pent-up demand for intimacy and a mini baby-boom,” Shah adds. There will also likely be more of an emphasis on communal life, as further supported by architecture critic Alexandra Lange. While it is possible that people grow accustomed to the habits gained in quarantine, and prefer solitude to solidarity, the opposite is about equally as likely. People will develop a greater appreciation of the smaller gifts in life, and open themselves up to exploration of the outside world, away from screens and their own bedrooms.

These examples are simply the tip of the iceberg. As we near the development of a vaccine and approach reopening in many countries around the world, it is important for the world to understand that life will not return to exactly what it once was. There will be added losses, and norms before the pandemic will slowly be eradicated, such as dine-in restaurants. Yet, there will also be newfound joys – both in rediscovering the human bond as a result of being without it for so long, and in fixing fractures in current governments around the world. It is impossible to say for certain exactly which side will prevail – pessimists vs. optimists – but one thing is for certain: we hold the power to choose. Our actions in life post-coronavirus will work to determine the direction the world takes from there on out. In the meantime, we wait…