Looking Toward a Post-COVID-19 World
Since the pandemic began, prognosticators have been predicting the permanent changes that COVID-19 would likely bring to all aspects of our lives. While some predictions will be proved wrong, there is no question that, in the words of the great Bob Dylan, “the times they are a-changin’ in the post-COVID-19 world.
Previewing a Post-COVID-19 World
The coronavirus pandemic is changing our world in two broad ways: by accelerating trends that were already under way and by igniting entirely new and unexpected changes.
Perhaps the most obvious way in which COVID-19 has accelerated change is by moving us toward a more digital world. While a new work paradigm remains unclear at this point, working remotely is here to stay and very likely to be more broadly practiced on a permanent basis.
Stay-at-home orders have resulted in a surge in online shopping, quickening the demise of brick-and-mortar stores unprepared for the digital revolution—failing malls will become distribution centers. This move toward a digital world has even extended to how we receive medical care as telemedicine has become an important alternative to a doctor’s crowded waiting room.
With online shopping and the decline of in-restaurant dining, delivery services have expanded to curbside pick-up, drive-thru, touchless delivery and, increasingly, drones.
The pace of AI and robotic implementation in warehouses and on factory floors has accelerated, while supply lines are being reconfigured to respond to future pandemic risks and a growing deglobalization sentiment.
Expect the digital shift to have broad repercussions. Large urban areas will be challenged to maintain their populations, resulting in a smaller tax base and reduction in services, which could lead to further urban exodus.
Higher education, which has seemed immune from reform, will also be challenged with the rise of online education. As this mode of education grows, it will be difficult for colleges to continue to raise prices and fund the physical and administrative infrastructure built up over the last 30 years.
Finally, we may find that another lasting change in the post-COVID-19 world will be to the social contract by which we operate. The entire social and economic order of the Middle Ages was upended in the wake of the Black Plague as feudalism collapsed, religion and medical authorities were challenged, migration increased, and women gained rights.
While there looks to be light at the end of the tunnel in returning to normalcy, it will without doubt be a new normal. As of yet, it remains to be seen what the nature and extent of the social and economic reverberations of COVID-19 will be.
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