Think of COVID-19 as a Bike with Training Wheels for the 2020s
[Mu of his column just appeared in the Sarasota Herald- Tribune
Clear image, right? Either a memory from your childhood or from parenthood. The first lesson is to learn how to peddle, break, hand signal, turn and generally adapt to the concept of a bike. My father was hard core. He said no training wheels, learn balance first on a scooter. Okay Dad! Can I have a red scooter? I was the exception.
Then the training wheels come off and the concept of balance is the next big lesson to learn. Once learned, always remembered. That truth has become a metaphor for any time someone says they haven’t done something natural or routine in a long time. One says “I haven’t done that in years!” The other responds “ Hey, it’s just like riding a bike!” Everyone reading these words has experienced this dialogue.
The 2020s is the most disruptive decade in history. [Hey, great title for a book! ]. COVID-19 is one big global disruption. Hard to think of something or someone that hasn’t felt or been disrupted in the last 7 months. We all had to make major fundamental changes in how we live. We all are still having to live differently than we did this time a year ago. Healthcare workers, teachers and just about anyone in the field of education is in full on adjustment and largely on their own. Actually, these groups of workers seem to have to fight politicians who are making decisions based upon politics and not science, certainly in this state, while they struggle forward with no new support or funding. [Yes, this angers me. Should not children and education get what is needed in a global crisis- first?]
Business owners, large and small, have either closed their businesses for good or are working like crazy to keep from doing so. We all know the issues and the challenges. What we don’t know is how to consider that we will never return to normal.
What is the new normal? What will the new normal be? When will everything come back to how it was?
There is no normal. The only “normal” is abnormality . Nothing will come back to how it was.
The single largest pandemic psychological symptom today is the believe that sometime “this” will be over. It will not.
The movie theater business, the restaurant business, the office leasing business, the theater business, the concert business, the in-person conference business and all the other businesses that are based upon lots of people coming together in a space will never be the same. Sorry. Yes, many of these businesses will remain, but many fewer than before COVID-19. Those that remain will be different in how they operate and what they serve and how they serve customers.
False hope can be deadly. Please don’t hang on to it.
Why is almost everything going to be different even if COVID-19 goes away?
First, the fact that America is the plague nation of the world puts us in a hole. The administrations’ corruption of the scientists at the CDC, the FDA, and HHS has shown in the recent polls where majorities now don’t trust the government. Such sayings as “let all our political leaders take the first vaccine and if nothing bad happens to them it will be good for the country. If something bad does happen to them, it will be good for the country” [I have heard dozens of variations on this] point to the distrust of those in power who have not led but only sowed confusion. This means that the discovery, production and distribution of a known successful vaccine still will need to be distributed and taken by at least 75% of the population for there to be a post-COVID19 economy, at a time when many are reticent to take a vaccine.
Second, over time people change. Particularly when they have had to absorb massive amounts of change in several months’ time. Past research has shown that new habits can be fully formed in several weeks. We have had months now to recalibrate our lives. Streaming services have exploded during COVID-19, all for the price of a single move theater ticket, or less. We have been doing this for almost 7 months. Sure, we may all go back, but nowhere near with the frequency we had in the past.
We have learned to cook more, save more, spend less on food and generally become healthier eaters. The sourdough bread phenomenon has been well-documented. We have become cooks, dieters and bread makers. Yes, we will go out to restaurants, but not with the frequency of the past.
The largest disruption of course is working from home. Millions who never did, do now. Many like it so much that they don’t want to go back to the office and the work commute ever again. Companies see the cost savings they have realized and will support their employees desire to continue with working at home. Look for vacancies and darkness in downtown office buildings across the country.
What COVID-19 has done is to give us a chance to learn how to ride a bike with training wheels. We had never ridden one and how we have. However, we haven’t had to learn the concept of balancing on-going disruption. To lose the training wheels will mean that the next disruption of any magnitude will be an easier adaption as we have gone through COVID-19. Very few of us, and as a futurist I am one of the few, have gotten into any sense or state of balance with the pandemic. Things are off-kilter “until we get back to the way it was” or “until we have a vaccine” or until we return to normal”. All delusions.
In the 2020s there will most likely be another global pandemic. There will be deflation in parts of the world and inflation in others. There will be a massive “reckoning’ about debt and finance. If 100% of America’s total annual GDP went to retire the federal government’s debt, we still would not have retired all of it. Think about that! There will be unprecedented numbers of unemployed and under employed.
There will be major geo-political upheavals, continued wealth inequality. Oh, and something called the climate crisis. Watched the news lately? In a recent book I forecast a range of 50-100 million climate crisis refugees in the next ten years, globally and probably at least five million of those in our country.
We have had COVID-19 as a chance to learn the experience of riding a bike. We all now have to get ready for riding through disruption after disruption and keep our balance while doing it.