James Leroy Wilson's one-man magazine.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

3 ways the Coronavirus will change us

Originally published at Medium.

Going the social distance

James Leroy Wilson
Mar 12 · 4 min read
COVID-19, aka Coronavirus. SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control
March 11, 2020 is a day I’ll remember. For the first time since September 11, 2001, I felt that the future would be very different from what I thought it would be the day before.
Before 3/11, I was of course aware of COVID-19. Nursing homes where loved ones live were refusing visitors on account of the Coronavirus, but they might have anyway because it’s still flu season. Also, overseas travel plans of extended family were impacted. I knew the stock markets were off the rails and international tourism was tanking. Earlier in the week, we learned that some government officials, in America and abroad, had the virus.
It still didn’t really hit home for me, however, until 3/11. That’s the day the NCAA announced that its basketball tournaments would be played to empty arenas. For the first time in several year, I turned on the TV to watch the national news.
That evening, it was announced that Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson had COVID-19. Then we learned that a Utah Jazz player had it. Then the NBA suspended play, and President Trump spoke to the nation and imposed a ban on travel from Europe. (That I didn’t watch; since the mid-00’s, I’ve avoided Presidential speeches like, well, the Plague.) On the evening 3/11, I knew this was going to get huge.
Then on 3/12 (the day I’m writing this), the NCAA cancelled their tournaments entirely, all the major sports leagues have been suspended, and Disney World and other tourist destinations are temporarily closing.
This is the biggest disruption to the routines of national life since 9/11, and will last longer.
The big difference is, officials high up in our own government wanted something like 9/11, a “new Pearl Harbor,” to happen. They also had the means, motive, and opportunity to make it happen, which has led to innumerable conspiracy theories.
In contrast, nobody wanted a pandemic. At least, not Trump or his cabinet. If there is a conspiracy, they’re not in on it.
I don’t know if the political response to COVID-19 will undermine American liberties as it did after 9/11; most of the precautionary actions taken thus far have been by private organizations or local officials. But I could see the culture transforming organically — more or less voluntarily — regardless of the national political response.
I can think of three ways. First, telecommuting will spread more rapidly. Large call centers and endless rows of data-entry operators in cubicles will soon be a thing of the past. My own (admittedly uninformed) observation is that telecommuting is far more feasible in far more lines of work than what we’re currently seeing, and the transformation to a culture “working for the man,” but from home, is going to escalate. Why have your employees make each other sick? The Coronavirus is the major event to push the economy in that direction.
Second, the shift to online classrooms will accelerate. The concert and theater stages, the playing fields and gymnasiums, and the labs will still be part of education. Some things do require teamwork. But who needs the large classroom? Online courses and video conferencing can accomplish much. Why should large groups of students get each other sick?
Home-based employment and home-based schooling would go hand-in-hand, as parent and child could be more flexible in meeting the schedule of the other. Also, we could see children learn at their own pace at home, instead of being stuck in age-based classrooms where they could be teased or bullied when they fall behind.
Third, the talk of playing games in empty arenas will lead to surprising innovations: how can we make this work for the fans? If the population becomes more reluctant to go to large-crowd events, how can the events be presented electronically in a way that audiences get the energy and excitement of being there live? How can concerts and games become multi-media events that can engage an audience more personally and intimately than television screens currently do?
I have some vague, hard-to-explain ideas about that. The technology isn’t there yet. But the technology will come sooner because of the Coronavirus.
I’m assuming the crisis will eventually subside. The pandemic will come to an end sooner or later. Also, the workplace, classroom, and arena won’t ever completely disappear. But I do think one result of the the Coronavirus will be a greater demand for social distancing, and entrepreneurs will figure out a way to satisfy it.
I’m not saying this is good or bad. I, for one, don’t see anything wrong with people voluntarily looking for ways to stay safe and healthy. But who knows? Maybe we’ll be safest if we’re in pods like in The Matrix.
Hmm. Maybe there is a conspiracy.
James Leroy Wilson writes from Nebraska. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. If you find value in his articles, your support through Paypal helps keep him going. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution. You may contact him for your writing, editing, and research needs: jamesleroywilson-at-gmail.com.