Our lives change after every traumatizing national or international event. Our lives changed when the Berlin Wall Fell. They changed after 911 and after the 2016 election. And our lives WILL change after the Coronavirus has had its way with us. But how will it change?
I’m going to get out my crystal ball (the one with the numeral 8 on it) and look deep within its depth. If I’m right, feel free to honor me as a prophet in my own land. If I’m wrong, then like those who have predicted the end of the world since the 1970s, I will just repackage my prophesies and present them with similar force next week.
I’m going to bet the farm (which I don’t own anyway) that after several weeks of forced lockdown the United States will be ready to party! You’ll see the biggest launch of business activity since the end of World War II as merchants and their customers engage in an orgy of activity and spending.
Speaking of orgies—The population of the United States will get a brief but substantial bump that will be referred to hereafter as the “Virus-boom” with the resulting children the Virus Boomers. This bump in population will more than make up the numbers of people who actually die from the disease by a couple of degrees of magnitude.
That’s not the only “bump” that we will experience. We already have eschewed handshakes to a large degree. They may make a comeback. After all, we’ve had epidemics/pandemics before. But they might not. Handshakes have always been a little skewed towards the men, anyway, since a big man with an overwhelming grip has an intimidation advantage over the smaller, less physically overbearing woman. If enough women and wimpy men adopt the habit of not shaking hands for health reasons, they might continue to decline for status reasons once the virus crests and recedes.
I can’t imagine that the elbow bump will replace the handshake, because it looks stupid. Although it does kind of return us to the roots of our reptile brain where some species claim territory and status by doing a little dance. Fist bumps are infinitely superior, especially if you merely “tap” the proffered knuckles.
The glove that combines fashion with sanitation might become the new fashion craze. A glove of a material that fights viruses and bacteria, but is stylish enough to look cool. Like something Michael Jackson might wear. On one hand.
The children who were robbed of their graduations by the virus, both at the high school level and at the college and university level, will be allowed to graduate but under less than stringent requirements. As a result a cohort of young people will always be tainted by the stigma that they “just aren’t good enough.” Maybe they will even be called “COVID Grads.” If someone is at a doctor’s office 15 or 20 years from now and happens to glance at the diploma on the wall he may do a little mental arithmetic. If he arrives at the fateful year, he may, if he is facing a serious procedure, reschedule with another physician.
The art of cooking may get a revival. We know that a significant number of young people lack basic skills of cooking good meals, aside from operating a microwave like a boss. When people are forced to stay home for long periods, one way to beat back boredom is to make good food. Cooking is fun! Let’s hope that a new generation, or cross generation of stay-at-homers learn how rewarding fixing a good meal can be.
The office as we know it may be dead. A significant portion of the population was starting to work out of their homes before the coronavirus. That number has launched into low earth orbit. We will see whether people will find that they actually like not only bringing their work home, but keeping it home. If so, this could have profound effects on traffic gridlock, the “need” for more public transportation, and pollution.
On the other hand, others need the discipline of the office to work effectively—in other words they can’t stand being around their family members!
But if the demand for offices declines precipitously, something will need to be done with those offices. Rents will certainly decline with decreased demand. Maybe converting existing offices into badly needed housing is the answer. How ironic: if we move our work to our homes, and convert our offices into homes and move back into them!
I see teleconferencing using programs such as Zoom becoming a daily part of our lives, with video lunches, virtual bridge games, even video dating. One unexpected bonus is that you can always use the mute button if the conversation lags.
The most alarming trend may be that we will once again, as we did after 911, surrender some of our hard-won civil rights (not hard won by us, but by our forebears, who undoubtedly valued them more than we do.) We may see restrictions on our right to travel enshrined in the law, although certainly not without a fight.
An example of this: Rhode Island’s governor Gina Raimondo sent her National Guard house to house demanding to see identification (“Show us your papers, Meine Damen und Herren”) to determine if anyone had sneaked into the state from neighboring New York so they could be put into forced quarantine. The optics of uniformed troops with rifles banging on doors of American citizens as if under martial law are quite alarming. Raimondo is a good progressive who would be appalled if someone suggested detaining an undocumented alien on the grounds that he committed a crime while in the country. It should be remarked that it is not the man elected president amidst predictions that he would be another fascist dictator who resorted to a playbook favored by tyrants.
During the Great Depression armed Los Angeles Police manned the California border to prevent “Okies”—itinerant workers fleeing the Dust Bowl—from crossing into the Golden State to seek employment. The LA Police Chief declared that constitutional rights were of “no benefit to anybody but crooks and criminals.” Sound familiar? You might have read about this in Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.” Will our constitutional guarantees of the freedom to travel again become subject to the whims state or local officials? Fear of “plague” might do that.
My final prediction for how our lives will have changed is a shameless steal from one of our columnists, Ed Gallo: There will be a bunch of garage sales where the principal item on sale will be large piles of toilet paper being sold to free up room in the house once more.