Life In A Global Pandemic, Part 3

At last, for me, the economic reality of this situation is starting to set in. With most everyone stuck at home, bars and restaurants closed, shopping centers empty, the threat to the economy has become clear. Yesterday, for the first time yet, I started to worry about job security.

My family is comfortable, and we will probably be okay... probably. It really depends on how things proceed in the COVID-19 world. The experts tell us that a vaccine is 18 months away. I don’t see how most of the world can continue to operate like this for 18 months. Production of all things is bound to slow down. Paychecks will stop flowing. People will be stretched. Then what?

The comfortable and the wealthy can afford to stay home and simply ride it out. Most people, though, cannot simply stop working. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, nobody can afford to just stay home forever. Eventually, most people will be forced to choose between putting food on the table and avoiding the coronavirus. Starving is a certainty, while contracting COVID-19 is a spin of the wheel. Every rational person will take their chances with getting the disease before they acquiesce to starvation.

In light of that, this is how I imagine things will play out:

People will stay home as long as they can. Some of us will lose our jobs while others will be forced to go back to theirs. Most of us will eventually have to leave home and get to work. Maybe there won’t be any good office jobs for people like me, and we’ll have to take supply chain jobs: deliveries, shipping/receiving, warehousing, manufacturing, and so on. But we will simply have to work; there is no other choice.

Thus, the virus will continue to spread. It is inevitable. It will spread and devastate until we have a vaccine or other treatment. Then, finally, we will go back to normal.

I think some norms will have to change.

Most obviously, working from home will become not only commonplace, but more normal than not. This will be a change for the better, on all kinds of levels. Office complexes are breeding grounds for communicable illness; staying away from them is a matter of prudence. I think telecommuting technologies will blossom. Call centers, for example, are typically staffed in huge buildings, but there’s no reason call center employees couldn’t work from home if their phones are connected to the central call routing system. Most office work could probably be done at home. And it will be, thanks to this pandemic; or at least, that’s my prediction.

Sanitation norms are also going to have to change. Today, I see people wiping down their shopping carts, wearing masks, etc. I think we’ll see a proliferation of touchless technologies: credit card payments with a “tap,” Android Pay, Apple Pay, etc. These technologies involve scanning, rather than inserting or swiping a card. Manually handling paper currency will have to fall out of favor, as it mostly already has. I can only hope that Americans will start to use bidets, wash their hands more thoroughly, be more mindful of coughing, sneezing, playing with their noses, and so on. Those are harder norms to overturn, but I think it will happen.

A few months of social distancing will be enough to convince people to keep their distance on the streets. I expect there to be fewer hellos and more allowance for “personal space.” At the same time, I expect social networks to blossom. Not Twitter or Facebook, obviously, but the networks that actually matter to people. Video game networks like Twitch and Zwift will expand. Strava will do quite well. I imagine virtual socializing will fill the void caused by physical social distance. This will be highly disruptive, though, because it takes a different skill set to excel in social media than it does to excel in face-to-face interaction.

In what other ways might our lives be about to change?

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