Baby Boomers and COVID-19
In the ample time available these days, one thinks of lots of things. Reflections on the future, of course, but also about this entire experience we are sharing.
We all have had the feeling, when going through a situation, that there was something vaguely familiar with the experience. Not déjà vu, but as though you had prepared for this in some forgotten way.
Upon consideration, it occurred to me that Boomers, particularly those of us born before, say 1952, have had subtle preparations for this COVID-19 shared experience. In the 1950s, as kids in early grade school, we had those atom bomb drills when we all got under our wooden desks in case a bomb came from the Soviet Union. Remember?
First, this was some unseen yet deadly threat. It was a concept. We saw pictures of ICBMs. Today we see that spiky coronavirus. Neither really seen, but imaged. Second, of course, is the lack of science. If an atom bomb can destroy a city, why would teachers and administrators believe that getting under a desk would keep us safe? (This was one of those early collective Boomer experiences that led us to challenge authority later on.)
Stronger in recall than the desk drill was the wide-spread publicity around bomb shelters. Now that made more sense than diving under a wooden desk. Get underground and stay there! There were bomb shelter stories in the news all the time. They showed up in the culture in books and movies. The storing of all necessary goods needed to stay underground for weeks or months. Mom and Dad and the two kids all happy underground, waiting out the invisible threat. Absolute social distancing.
In 1973-74 we all had to strategically plan our trips in the family car due to the oil embargo. Every night there were newscasts showing long lines of cars waiting to get their tanks filled at the gas station. Scarcity and increased prices. Then it was gasoline. Last month it was toilet paper.
So, we Boomers have some psychic preparation for this time of pandemic.
Casting it forward into the future, there are two things to ponder.
First, how will this experience shape the lives of those say, under the age of 40? And how will it end up affecting those under 20, under 10?
The only way to answer that is with qualified forecasts. If, as I think, COVID-19 triggers a global depression that lasts for years, that will cause psychic scarring. It will also trigger changes through society, business and even one’s sense of self. This probable first depression of the 21st century will have as big an effect on those alive today as the Great Depression had on the Great Generation.
I know that, until such time as I have been vaccinated for COVID-19, I will wear a mask whenever I go out in public. The etiquette that “I am wearing the mask to protect you” is difficult to refute. Masks are already being marketed as an accessory either for fashion, or health… or both. So masks will be a given going forward. We have conditioned ourselves to see people with masks and not wonder about them.
If we should end up with only a six to nine month downturn, the experiences we are sharing now will still have a major effect on Millennials and Digital Natives. All the new terms and practices we now have will either be integrated into our daily lives, or will be a collective memory that reconditions us for what may be ahead.
How much is COVID-19 a preparation for the times ahead in the 2020s decade? Is this a dress rehearsal?
COVID-19 is something that many of us have said would happen. A pandemic, “the big one”, was a certainty. For at least 10 years I have been asked whether I thought there would be pandemics ahead, and I have consistently said yes. In fact, I have stated that the “big one” would have the characteristic of transmission by people who did not know they were a carrier, asymptomatic in current parlance.
The next question is whether there will be “another COVID-19” in terms of a virus, and the answer is yes. The combination of ever more people on a crowded planet, the resulting encroachment into wildlife habitats, globalism and climate change almost guarantees another virus in this decade. At least we know what to do to be prepared.
The book I am putting the final touches on now, and which will be published next month, is titled “The 2020s: The Most Disruptive Decade in History”. To that point: how are the first three months of the decade working out for you?
Millennials and Digital Natives will, in several decades, collectively recall these days of staying in place, social distancing, of making masks, and of all the COVID-19 social media memes.
Boomers were shaped by the Cold War, all that was “the 60s”, the oil embargo and 9/11. Millennials and Digital Natives will most certainly be shaped by COVID-19 and all the accompanying economic turmoil. To each generation their own collective molding.