March 10, 2020

The World Has Shifted (COVID-19s Impact On Our Future)

The World Has Shifted (COVID-19s Impact On Our Future)

Only a few times in our lives do we experience something that radically changes our view of the future.

Right now, as I write this, the world is threatened by a new, unknown virus (COVID-19) that will change our lives forever.

While prior disasters such as the Christmas Day Tsunami or the Fukishima meltdown were tragic events that will forever be remembered - they didn't change our permanent outlook of the future nor our day-to-day behaviour like COVID-19 has already done to the world.

In my lifetime (mid-40s) the world has shifted with this magnitude only once:

September 11, 2001

The Pre-9/11 world was clearly different than it was after 9/11. Prior to 9/11 anyone could walk up to the airport terminal and greet or kiss their loved ones goodbye. After 9/11, entire government bureaucracies were created to "keep us safe" from global terrorism. As a result, global politics shifted, domestic security at airports changed, Middle-East reliance on oil for energy fueled massive growth in fossil-fuel alternatives, surveillance went mainstream and the militarization of our police became normal.

Like 9/11, the COVID-19 virus is resulting in radical changes to our day to day lives. People have been urged to work from home, schools and universities are closing and "doom's day prepping" has become a suburban hobby. Lessons are emerging from Hong Kong about preparedness and panic since they've been through two virus scares in the past.

These changes will mostly be permanent - and will give rise to new thinking that will question the validity of many of our institutions. Below are some examples:

Healthcare Shifts

It goes without saying that major healthcare shifts will come out of this experience.  Telemedicine will likely rise to the mainstream as the preferred initial examination (for convenience, cost and safety).

Insurance costs and copays will be altered to accommodate testing and treatment (we are already seeing this).  What other illnesses will this extend to?  How does triage get effected when a hospital is overrun?  How does healthcare shift during pandemics? Ironically, even people who oppose socialized medicine will look to the government for these answers.

Educational Shifts

Just today, elite universities across the country are cancelling classes for the rest of the quarter and beyond (Stanford, UC Berkeley, Harvard). As this continues, it questions the monetary value of an elite education. Is it worth spending $50,000 on tuition/room/board if the instruction can be done remotely by the student?

Is the "college experience" of living in a dorm and experimenting with alcohol, drugs and sex (often for the first time) what $50,000 buys the student? Can't this experience be replicated at a fraction of that price (a twelve pack of Coors light and some friends in a cornfield)?

The rise of MOOCs will eventually displace a good portion of the college experience for Americans and will have a "positive" impact on the overall cost of college tuition.

Public schools are temporarily closing in infected cluster areas across the country - which will put more pressure on the value of in-class instruction. Finally remote or "field" instruction will become a viable alternative for virtually all grades. And while this does put a burden on working families and particularly poor families who might not have a caretaker to stay home with the children - this domestic pressure will be felt at local school districts, city councils and county/state governments resulting in government programs and adjustments to accommodate everyone.

  • Look for a total revamp on homeschooling over the coming years as districts, politicians and parents over-react to future illness that can be spread through a community.
  • State governments will need to rethink "attendance" as the funding mechanism for school districts as well.
  • Naval Ravikant tweeted that "Active Shooter Drills will be replaced with Quarantine Drills."

Political Shifts

For the first time politicians will need to answer the question:

"Why didn't you shut down schools earlier?"

Suddenly, libertarians and conservatives will expect MORE from their Local, State and Federal governments to help with this shift. Liberals and progressives will also shift their views on borders, immigration and homelessness in different ways - calling for more restrictions and perhaps stricter laws.

Not only are our collective political views skewing as a result of this virus - but the very definitions of Freedom and Liberty are going to be called into question.

We all witnessed the draconian lock-downs that China exerted on Wuhan and other cities in an attempt to slowdown the spread of the virus. Will such lock-downs and quarantines work in a free society that was defined by government revolt work? Italy is the first Western nation experimenting with various forms of lock-downs in their attempt to arrest the virus - but it is still unknown if it will work.

  • The strengths and weaknesses of both centralized and decentralized governments will continue to be put to the test in the coming years as we continue to press the limits of the definitions of both.

Work Shifts

Remote work has already been on the rise over the past years with the resurgence of products like Zoom, Slack, Skype and Basecamp - not to mention the handheld computers that we all carry in our pockets. But after COVID-19, companies of all sizes will continue to shift their outlook on working from home and perceptions of productivity. Gone will be the water cooler, the mindless birthdays and endless meetings. People are beginning to trust their employees and realize that they CAN be more productive working from home (or remotely).

Afterall, if a majority of sales are completed over the phone or on a web meeting with a customer (the most important stakeholder in a business) - why can't "internal" meetings default to virtual as well?

The event and conference worlds are changing as a result and will need to be re-imagined - sadly many will go out of business.

  • Remote will continue to become more and more the default "location" for employees and companies that continue to shun or mock remote workers will drop in both favorability as well as productivity.

Hygiene Shifts

Our household and public expectations for hygiene and sanitation will rise and shift to wearing gloves and masks in public. Like in many Eastern countries - this will become the new normal. Some have even predicted entire new fashion trends as a result of the virus that embrace simple masks and full headdresses.

Wiping down the airplane seat when you first sit down will no longer just be my wife when traveling with our children - but this will be standard procedure for everyone performed by the airline staff.

Environmental and conservation campaigns to save paper towels have switched now that hand dryers in bathrooms have been labeled "viral fountains."

  • New health standards for airplanes, hotels, restaurants, businesses and public places will permanently change (for the better!).

Money Shifts

Look for a major rise in Apple Pay, Google Pay and other methods of payment that do not require a credit card or cash to be handled / exchanged. This will become the norm.

Travel Shifts

Cancellation fees and change fees will be lowered as consumers will demand flexibility to account for sudden changes.  Cruise lines are changed forever.

Contract Law

Event agreements and contract law will include clauses to account for epidemics and pandemics (who knew).

Insurance underwriters will dream up unimaginable scenarios to profit from as a result of this virus.

Generational Shift

Neil Howe, the generation demographer writes that generations are often defined by the most recent "big event" that they just can't remember.

For example, Boomers were defined by World War II and the New Deal - they inherited the immediate economic benefits from a prior generation that made immense sacrifices for the future. Likewise, Generation X was defined by the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK - resulting in a disillusionment in government.

Future generations will be defined by the fallout of the COVID-19 CoronaVirus. The implications will be broad and will continue to change our society for many, many years.

Like everything else - this too shall pass. But even if this virus is contained and ends up fizzling out in the next few weeks - the worldshift has already begun and will continue to shift every aspect of our lives for the foreseeable future.

This change isn't a bad thing - it's just a thing.

These shifts happen and it creates tremendous opportunities for us as a society to innovate, create, build, bond and grow. Science has big problems to solve and funding will be plenty as a result of this virus. This will spawn new interest in healthcare for students to study and research. Entrepreneurs will pour their hearts into new businesses that will attempt to solve innumerable new problems that will arise. Governments will adjust to work closer with communities, politicians priorities will shift and we will hold them all more accountable for our collective safety.

While quarantines sound negative and scary - perhaps they shift into positive experiences where families, friends and neighbors draw closer and help each other through difficult times.

I'm very optimistic about our future - and knowing that the world has been through many "shifts" before - the future always ends up being brighter and bigger and different than anyone imagined.

Here in the US, we suffer from an "it can't happen here" syndrome that lulls us into complacency when it comes to emergencies like COVID-19. These sort of things only happen on TV - either on the news as we watch SARs unfold in Asia or in apocalyptic movies that serve as entertainment - not instruction manuals.

Outside of the localized tragedies that will occur as some people lose friends or loved ones to the virus, I think the most important shift will be in American's view that "it CAN happen here" and that things have change - the world has shifted.

[This article was written as a draft - its not scientifically accurate nor am I a forecaster of any sort - but I felt compelled to capture my thoughts on what I believe is a major shift in the world as a result of this virus. I hope it fizzles out and I'm wrong.]