How can we predict the immediate future, imagining the world we’ll emerge into after COVID19 runs its course? Given the work we’ve done at Denny Leinberger Strategy on understanding the intersection of technology and culture, we have a certain lens to look through by which we can offer a few predictions on what the future may look like, but to be clear, we’re in somewhat uncharted territories here. As such, take the below for what it’s worth – one guy’s opinion on what might happen next.
Here are eleven thoughts, in no particular order, on how our lives will be impacted by this Coronavirus pandemic – after the fact.
Our homes will be different.
Stockpiling of food and medicine at home means pantries are the new status symbol. Bidets are in every American home. We no longer rely on daily trips to the supermarket anymore – we still do them, of course, but that’s because we have six months’ worth of food, baby wipes, and Benedryl in the pantry. Not to mention ammunition.
Did I mention ammunition? If pantries and bidets are the new status symbols, multiple gun safes will be more important than hybrid hook-ups in the garage. Fascinating to see how the prospect of running out of toilet paper has spawned a panic response in gun ownership and ammunition stockpiling. For the first time, many people in the US have the faintest glimpse of life one day after collapse will look like, even if “collapse” means finding an alternative to toilet paper.
Decentralization of everything is now the normal way of doing business.
Our supply chains are fragmented – we won’t rely on China (or any one place) anymore. Manufacturing will return to the US – but it won’t leave China, or Thailand, or El Salvador. It will be in more places, using more technology. Yes, costs will go up. There will be a pendulum swing towards centralizing again because it’s cheaper over there – but the next hint of another pandemic in the next five years will cause us all to rush back to a near-shoring solution.
Nations will either nationalize or require key industries like pharma to keep critical products in the country.
The US won’t allow antibiotics to be sole-sourced in China anymore, or surgical masks, integrated circuits, or anything else. I don’t think we’ll see nationalization here, but I think a strong DoD private/public partnership that anchors key interests in US manufacturing would be a probable scenario.
Work (and school) from home is the new normal.
Sure, we have a place to call “the office,” but we go once a week. Our kids go to school a few days a week, but the real learning happens at home, online. No distractions, more learning. And far less school crowding.
But this isn’t just a case of working from home on a Friday. I think what we’ve just experienced requires companies to ensure they’re WFH ready at any time – and that means company-wide adoption of things like Microsoft Works, Zoom, and the appropriate hardware to ensure a smooth and professional experience for all, no matter if you’re at home on your laptop or on your phone. Can’t fit your whole team on your laptop display? You’ll be using a 55″ screen and an external videocamera. Working with an extensive network of designers located all around the world? You’ll be using an infinite desktop like Bluescape. Relying on all this as if your business depends on it? You’ll be prioritizing IT security like never before.
But stopping here misses the bigger point. This “new normal” of remote work and work from home calls for an absolute renaissance in understanding the balance of “the work we do alone” and “the work we do together.” The corporate world – and the current state of workspace design in the enterprise, such as it is – is focused on collaboration, often forced. Open office design, which no one on earth likes, is the norm. Working from home means the ability to focus, to be individually productive, which is something that’s hard to do in a modern office setting, with its built-in distractions – both human and cultural, technological and psychological. A full-on embrace of work from home means an explosion of personal productivity. “The work we do alone” has to happen before its worth sharing – we have to get ideas out of our heads, scratched down on white boards or legal pads, crossed out, re-written, dismissed and then brought back from the dead, and finally drafted into some kind of sensible shape. Only then can it be elevated to “the work we do together.” The ability to focus is the enormous unforeseen part of this entire movement. Watch what happens here.
Virtual events will trump live events, which means live events can become more technological and more exotic.
Why not watch the Lakers play the Clippers on a rooftop in LA – or a high school gym? The technology is there to make this better than in-arena. Look at CourtVision for inspiration. Add 4K drone video capture and real-time analytics. We’ve seen this in Asia for the past decade – virtual concerts where fans through virtual gifts on stage – which cost them money, of course – and which comprise the only compensation the artist receives for the gig. Once the given of the physical space is removed, the possibilities are really quite fascinating.
Personal respirators will be the new wearable.
We have in-pocket and in-ear and are seeing the emergence of eyewear. Now, we’ll see contained personal biosphere control. No more pathogens, no more Eau du Port Authority, no more seasonal allergies. With this new look comes closed-to-the-face eyewear, similar to swim goggles, ensuring no droplet transmission to the eyes.
An added benefit to all this? No more facial recognition. It’s a win-win.
Marketing and the ad community will have its immediate post-pandemic celebration and will then flee to safety and security.
The US economy is still in magnificent shape in every possible measurable manner (a pandemic artificially constraining global supply chains and local demand, notwithstanding). Coming out of this experience, my guess is we’ll see an explosion of optimism and spending, with brands falling all over themselves to offer experiences and products that celebrate our freedom from this oppressive phase. Once the burst happens, we’ll quickly revert to our new normal. The mass consumer is now wired towards safety, security, and self-sufficiency. Brands will cater to this or be ignored. The super affluents will likewise invest in these same three things, albeit at a level most can’t imagine or afford.
Greater political fragmentation will come.
With great stress comes harder retrenchment. No matter what happens regarding our national response to this novel pandemic, those opposed to Trump will criticize him, while loyalists will applaud him. And the gulf will widen.
More importantly, we will see in the near term a self-described libertarian or socialist in Congress ask the question, “Shouldn’t we have a national conversation about whether we should still me one nation?” And people will stop and pause and begin that conversation. Where it ends up, we’ll have to wait and see.
From the political to the social, we will be increasingly tribal.
Those in our new “quarantine zone circle” and those outside will be treated separately. We’ll be closer to those we’re close to – and further from those we’re not. We have multiple tribes – our online tribes are different from our personal ones – but we’ll trend towards a slight polarization going forwards. Tribal boundaries will extend everywhere – we will have “our” politicians and media sources just like we will have “our” restaurants, actors, retailers, VC’s, theaters, streets, car brands, shoes, sports teams (not just defined by geographical location, but ideological bent), technologies, and all the rest.
With greater social fragmentation comes a deeper look at mental health.
With greater stress also comes a need to confront a true national crisis, namely suicide, which seems to be epidemic in some of the otherwise most productive members of our society: white males over 50. Guys like me, who are my age (or even younger!), who shouldn’t really be in this situation.
Why does this belong here, in this discussion? Simply stated, great stress brings more people closer to the cracking point. In this current socio-cultural environment, it’s white males in their 50’s who seem to be the most dispensable in our culture – which is odd, on face value, because this is a high productivity, high experience group of people in the knowledge economy. From ageism to corporate restructuring to the downside of our current cultural moment, this group has taken the full brunt of it all. And the numbers bear this out. We need to re-think how we look at mental health with this squarely in the bulls-eye.
Less reliance (more decentralization) of wealth will come as a result of the wildest gyrations of the stock market.
With great stress comes a desire to seek a respite from stress. This means seeking control in an out-of-control world, from food security to physical security. An apple orchard on 3 acres with a 500 square foot house in a rural county may be a better use of scarce funds than rolling the dice with your 401(k). In an economy based on work from home – wherever home is – this may be a far superior solution for many.
All of this is currently un-concludable. We’re feeling our way along in the dark right now and we won’t see a light at the end of this tunnel for a few weeks, if not months. But we will emerge because we’re recovering already. Stay tuned and stay optimistic.