What prospers, when others fail, in a world forced to change.
We knew this would come. If we weren’t able to autonomously make the necessary change to our exponentially damaging behaviour, a greater force would do this for us. You only need to step a meter towards a window, observe the stark empty streets, to feel the fresh reality whip our naive, but guilty, faces. The question is, how has humanity reacted in the face of indefinite uncertainty?
As our seemingly luxurious lifestyles fade into black, we’re left in isolation to reflect on what is really luxury, and what it means to be human. We can only compare the response to the crisis of our neighbours, slow or fast, by what is broadcast through the stream of instagram stories and the unexpectedly frequent FaceTime’s with our loved ones separated by land, seas, or even our nearest walls. Suddenly, our phones really are our window to the world outside. Our governments muddle through diplomacy and attempts at a unilateral effort, applying wartime policies to invoke control and avoid mass panic, or simply stand frozen, or claim fantasy, in the eyes of the public.
For the lucky ones, this time is a gift. Almost a random act of kindness from the universe. Solitude has provided headspace, new ideas sifting through the now surprisingly fresh and unpolluted air around us, an opportunity to hear the voices of those we ignored, creativity rife between our fingers as we explore old hobbies collecting dust in corners, shapeshifting our rooms for new perspectives, and exploring our bodies for a new sense of presence and stillness.
Others, wavering on shaky grounds, stare into the fog. Small comfort in that they are not alone, the whole world in disarray, waiting patiently for the chaos to dissipate. We’ve never had to surrender to one of life’s gusty blows in our generation quite like this before. And these are the people we should be most concerned with — our efforts pooled into what we can do to help, right now, from our lives in quarantine, or speculating as to what they might most need following the crisis.
As we begin to snake and ladder down Maslow’s floors of needs, we arrive in the kitchen where we seek comfort in the relationships of our friends and family, our basic needs met and protected for the immediate future, but for how long, nobody knows.
As each is forced to adapt, kindness and goodness pours out from businesses to people, as we support one another to keep local economies running, and prevent the threat of boarded up restaurants and office spaces once we’re over the hill, whose top is obscured by the greyest of clouds. Friends promote takeaway offerings of their favourite lunch spot, offer free online lessons while schools are closed, or deliver groceries and medication to the elderly. Local businesses too are stepping in, as cafés provide free coffee and subsidised food for hospital workers. It’s been heart-warming to witness such compassion in a fearful climate. While Brexit pulled communities and generations apart, the pandemic has sought great strength from each of us, to collaborate with, tolerate and care for one another.
As the worst-affected businesses across the hospitality, entertainment, travel and tourism sectors are forced to close indefinitely, and jobs are lost in spectacularly unprofessional and desperate behaviours, where do we see hope, action and growth?
One thing’s for sure, we’d all feel very alone and vulnerable without the power of technology and the internet. We recognise its ability to drain our minds and energy, however, today it’s a life source, connecting families, governments, health professionals and providing vital resources to those in need.
The ease of sharing data and making it open source, such as the John Hopkins live interactive map of the outbreak, is providing the world with valuable knowledge and visually communicating the worrying stage we’ve reached at a global scale. It probably should shock us more, but as it remains objectively analytical (other than the use of red as a visual cue for a dangerous metric), we’re still missing that connection between numbers to real people to inspire behavioural change.
As the race is on to control the spread, we’ve had to accept our privacy might be compromised as a result, as location data is being collected in order to track the movement of people and cases of COVID-19. This becomes an internal dilemma for some, as we wrestle with our desire for anonymity and right to privacy, with the reality that data is helping doctors and scientists track, learn and act at speed as they battle to save lives. This could in the end reframe our attitudes towards data collection, as we live the rewards of innovations and breakthroughs in science and healthcare.
In isolation, loneliness and the void of human touch and connection is the greatest risk to our health and wellbeing. Online communication has been a lifeline between people and communities, and as well as the regular players WhatsApp and Skype, new apps have emerged such as the Quarantine Chat, to counter the effects of loneliness amongst those in isolation. For those experiencing withdrawals from group activities, social apps, such as Houseparty, provide friends separated through self-quarantine a shared social experience.
As well as digital solutions, we’re also seeing basic physical solutions such as groups of individuals self-isolating together. For the more vulnerable, this could be a matter of life and death, as well as providing support for mental health and wellbeing.
As well as communication, we have come to increasingly depend upon home entertainment. Streaming content, from podcasts, Netflix, to audiobooks, has never been so in demand. As festivals, club nights and concerts are cancelled, artists connect with their fans through their living rooms instead.
Space is being transformed to cope with the pandemic. From hotels into hospitals, to fashion houses into factories of medical supplies. As the world comes to a standstill, car manufactures, such as Tesla, have been quick to offer their factories as production houses for ventilators to support the treatment of COVID-19. Businesses who were already strategizing over how to pivot for future demands based on redundant product and services and changing needs, have shifted the fabric of their business at rapid speed. Infrastructure has been reimagined, and encourages us to think how in the future maybe we will think beyond product, to agile architectural design and a variably-skilled workforce.
As curfews kick in across the world, at-home fitness has risen incredibly. In cities, we’ve been creative in small spaces to make room for yoga mats, kettlebells and TRX bands. Physical wellbeing is crucial during a time when optimum health is key to prevent a contraction of the virus or hinder our ability to help others. As well as transformed spaces and resourcefulness, we’re also seeing traditional classroom-based services now being offered online, often freely, through live sessions.
Disruptions to schools education, depending on how quickly we can overcome the pandemic, could steal a year from children’s education. Online education through digital tools and services, could not be more critical to help meet the deficit. Parents will need support to homeschool children, as they learn to adjust to working from home, sometimes for the first time, all together in confined spaces. It is a huge adjustment period, and we need to watch out for strains on mental health and wellbeing for families.
Initiatives are also forming, such as Save with Stories, to provide children with comfort and inspiration. We should not forget to provide younger generations hope and encouragement, in the face of such ambiguity.
Self-learning and training is also on the rise for adults. With so many of us putting off investing time into new skills or passions, now could be the time to take on a new language, learn an instrument, create art, or write. Often, the greatest creativity comes from a darkest periods of time, and already we’re seeing some of the most beautiful expressions shared across the internet.
As those fortunate to still be working adapt their home-life to fit extra monitors, desks, and video conferencing setups, we’re seeing seeing remote-working tools and services pushed to the brink. In worlds where direct collaboration with co-workers is integral to the process, or physical tools and materials are necessary to carry work, these will require the greatest experimentation to discover new workflows, that could redefine how we work in the future. It also opens up innovation for new tools and services, and even the employment of technology often viewed as futuristic such as augmented and virtual reality. In successful cases, it may question the need for office space all together for many businesses.
What will tomorrow look like?
It’s impossible to predict how long we will be forced to live restrictively. If it’s two weeks, we’ll likely return to our lives and consume, waste and travel in the same fashion as we did before the crisis. In two months, once we have learnt to buy less, recycle more, and travel for only essential needs, maybe we’ll see real positive change in our human needs and behaviour and greater environmental healing of the world itself. The question is, how long is necessary to change our behaviours and the way that society operates? It takes 66 days to for new behaviour to become automatic, however, maybe this is sped up when new habits are forced upon us. We all desperately want the pandemic to be over as soon as possible, but there’s a small hope that some of the learnings and positive change we’re seeing may just stick.
As old economies are worryingly dissolving, with huge job losses in sectors such as air travel, our greatest challenge will be to form new economies to cope with the impending global unemployment crisis. With greater dependences on governments, now more than ever, socialist movements might see their story strengthened for universal support and income, sharing economies and value-based models that can cope with uncertain futures.
How we act now, will define how we live in the future. Whether we choose to abide by the rules and restrictions in place, will inform how long we must endure them in the near future. As well as people, brand behaviour is also important, as their actions deposit in the memories of their current or future customers. Airbnb accommodating for extenuating circumstances, both for travellers and hosts, ensures that users feel understood and cared for in highly insecure situations. Coles and Woolworths in Australia are prioritising people with disability and the elderly to obtain their groceries, ensuring those who are more vulnerable are provided for. How brands respond, will be important for their consumer relationship in the future.
No person, no community, no business or government is immune from what is happening right now. All we can do is react to the circumstances as best as we can, respect the guidelines in place to protect the wider community, and be the best support we can for those most vulnerable. We will recover from this, but how things will look once the dust settles and how many lives are lost, is on us.