Here’s What the Pandemic Is Likely to Change

Richard B. Levine/Levine Roberts via ZUMA

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I maintain my position that the coronavirus pandemic is not likely to cause much in the way of permanent change to our way of life. The exceptions are trends that were already in place and might get a boost from the lockdown orders. For example:

  • Food delivery was obviously becoming a big thing before the pandemic started. I wouldn’t be surprised if lots of new people give it a try while locked down and then continue to use it afterward.
  • Brick-and-mortar retail outlets have been in dire straits for years. The pandemic will almost certainly accelerate their demise and give online sales a big upward spike.
  • Working from home has been gaining popularity in fits and starts for a long time. Now that the pandemic has forced it on many more people, will it finally break out and become routine? I’m uncertain about this. I suspect that an awful lot of people are learning that they don’t really like working from home all that much.
  • If we assume that COVID-19 is just the beginning of a new era of dangerous pandemics—and we probably should—we are going to start spending absolute mountains of money on R&D for quicker vaccines and ameliorative drugs.
  • Many of the biggest outbreaks were seeded by religious groups that refused to stop meeting in person. Will this cause any kind of backlash against extreme and fundamentalist religious sects? I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s not impossible.

In the great scheme of things, these are fairly minor changes. It’s worth keeping in mind that humans are fundamentally social animals, and even after just a couple of weeks of lockdown most of us feel like we’re slowly going crackers. After two or three months we’re going to be absolutely desperate for human contact, and nothing about COVID-19 will change that. The details may change here and there, but we will remain just as social as ever.

If you still want to make the case for major changes due to COVID-19, I suppose your best bet is to analogize it to the Black Plague.¹ After the Black Plague was over, the Renaissance blossomed in Italy and labor-saving devices became more popular. Interest in science flourished and that led directly to the Age of Reason and then to our own enlightened era. As it so happens, I think a similar big change is coming soon thanks to robots and artificial intelligence. All I need to do now is figure out a way to make a case that this will be accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and then crank out a fast insta-book aimed at the airport crowd and timed to coincide with the return of air travel. I’ll be rich!

¹Which killed a third of Europe. So be careful with your analogies given that COVID-19 is likely to kill more like 0.1 percent of Europe.

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