Ruminations and Forecasts in a Time of Pandemic – 2
The COVID-19 pandemic is a dangerous one. It has triggered many new patterns of behavior. Some will stick and will change our society permanently; some will fade away. There’s a widespread questioning of who and what to trust. Collectively, we are getting closer and yet more distant, simultaneously. We are finding new ways to look at how we lived before COVID-19, and assessing what we are learning… what is important to keep when we return to normal and what we want to change.
So, a collection of observations, ruminations and possible forecasts:
How we are choosing to pass our time is central to this pandemic experience. Many people I have “screened” with via Zoom or FaceTime find they are not watching as many movies, reading as many books, doing as much work, or tackling long postponed projects around the house as they thought they would. They are spending more time on their devices interacting with others.
Our lives have been disrupted. The habitual constructs of our days and weeks have been blown up, yet we have not fully replaced them with new habits and schedules, in part because we don’t know how long this will last. Are we in a temporary several week situation, a few months long one, or something that will last well into 2021?
While staying in place, people are bouncing between searching to learn more about our situation, connecting with others online, and other activities.
Habit Collapse and Reinvention
COVID-19 is causing new patterns of behavior to develop. Memes about it are everywhere. The problem with these memes is that they are founded on a supposition stated as fact that, a week or two weeks later, is no longer true. The more prolonged this situation becomes, the more new habits and health protocols will develop into routine patterns of behavior.
I am now in the habit of washing my hands more frequently. I will always have hand sanitizer, disposable rubber gloves, a mask and a roll of paper towels in the car.
There’s a lot we still don’t know about the virus. We don’t know if it is mutating. Only after we have flattened the curve, will we be able to estimate accurately how long this will continue. We don’t know what our work futures will be. We don’t know if COVID-19 will become a permanent part of our world like the flu. The flu comes back every fall and leaves in late spring. If COVID-19 does recur like the flu, will we have staying in place every winter? How would that affect school calendars, the workplace, travel?
Loss of grounding in daily habits and living with profound uncertainty is having a huge effect. Some of us are adapting just fine… but I think a majority are not adapting that well. As a futurist, writing a book about the 2020s decade, I see this time of pandemic as psychological preparation for other hugely disruptive events we will experience over the next 10 years.
Truth or Ignorance
Isn’t it common sense to wear a mask during a pulmonary viral pandemic? As mentioned above, I wear one if I am going out in public. There is no downside.
Yet the media, and their medical specialists, tell us that it doesn’t help to wear a mask. That we should only wear one if we have the virus. I intuitively had trouble with this message, which has been a constant one for the last month.
Well, guess what? Czechoslovakia flattened its curve sooner than most other European countries. They were the only country in Europe to make the wearing of masks everywhere a national mandate. Makes sense to me.
Are all the medical talking heads on cable news wrong? Or perhaps they know we should wear masks but, due to the shortage, have decided to bend the truth to save the masks for those with the highest need, and to prevent riots at Walgreens. I am not Czech, but I will wear a mask until I think it safe not to do so.
As I write this column on Monday 3/30/20, the story has changed. It is now suggested that people wear something, even a bandana, over their mouth and nose. Did the medical facts change?
This leads to my final rumination for this column, which is about trust and institutions. The President has gone from calling COVID-19 the “latest Democratic hoax” to saying that the numbers “look very bad”. What iteration of Trump is to be believed? At the same time there are hundreds of thousands of people who are learning to love Andrew Cuomo and his daily, totally numbers-oriented presentations.
In a time of isolation and death, trust in general and trust (or the lack thereof) in our media and governmental institutions will remain long after this crisis. Much of the post-COVID-19 world will be shaped by what we are experiencing now.