Four weeks into lockdown here in the U.K. and the forecasts for life post-COVID-19 are piling up, despite no clear idea of how and when lockdown itself might be eased.
Never mind. There are columns to fill. So an increasing number of newspaper articles claim to provide a clear vision of our future post-COVID-19, or ‘P.C.’ as we should perhaps now call the period of time after November 2019, when the virus first took hold. In an advanced but apparently godless world where a simple virus can bring the globe to a halt, A.D. doesn’t seem to cut it any more.
Nearly all of these articles cite the rapid adaptation of new communication technologies to argue that we will not go back to the way things were. Our nine-year-olds have mastered what most adults have failed to do, and use Microsoft Teams to take school classes. (Not Skype though: that’s for future generations to master.) We have gazed upon our bisected elderly relatives’ faces as they have talked into the sides of their screens — and shouted over us — on Zoom. Of course technology will change how we learn, socialise and work. Duh.
Yet for many commentators, this is not enough. Heady with the blindingly obvious, they have embarked on bespoke voyages to their own Heart of Darkness, making ever bolder claims as the jungle has closed in around them. Heinous crimes in the name of subediting have warned us of a WORLD THAT HAS CHANGED FOREVER as the river has narrowed to a stream and navigation turned impossible.
At various times over the last few weeks I have read that 2020 P.C. will mark the eradication of sovereign, corporate and individual debt; the introduction of a Universal Wage; the replacement of manual labour through automation; and the potential disappearance of cinemas from the face of the Earth. Any remaining freedom from Big Tech will disappear in one click with the download of a tracking app, while we will increasingly display our taste and style with ‘conscious luxury’ items that put being above bling.
Oh, and henceforth we will bake our own bread, our living spaces will be overrun with standing stones of loo roll, and cocktail hour will start promptly at 3.00 pm. Actually, one of those is already happening. I’ll let you guess which.
Some commentators spy unicorns on the post-COVID-19 horizon, convinced that the U.K.’s NHS will finally receive the financial support to match its popularity with the public. Others see an opportunity to better address climate change or reduce social inequality. Which would be nice.
Hell, all of these things may happen. We live in strange times, where anything is possible. But that was true in 2016 when the U.K. unexpectedly voted for Brexit, and the U.S. voted in an outsider as its President. In the last few years the climate has been collapsing in front of our eyes, and as recently as winter 2019 large parts of Australia were up in flames; the lumière to the son of a trade war between the two largest economic powers on the planet. Does either of those years sound normal to you?
As we process the world around us from lockdown, its skies somehow bluer, our air cleaner, the birdsong louder, the search for the new normal is as complicated as Charles Marlow’s pursuit up the Congo. While our world has become increasingly unpredictable, normality has gained an elasticity that renders our supposed control over our lives laughable.
Worse, in trying to define the New Normal (someone must have trademarked this, no?), many of the assumptions about what the world will look like only twelve months from now downplay the fundamental human need for physical contact, an uncomplicated pursuit of pleasure, and the propensity for people to muddle through.
Over the next few weeks, I will look at many of the forecasts being made, sometimes because they are well-argued and draw on expertise, often because they seem absurd and are clearly never going to happen. But I will always look at them through the lens of human needs. Desires that Zoom cannot and will not ever meet, thank God.