There will be no return to “normal” after the Covid-19 pandemic. Ever.
People, shaking their heads, are saying “things are gonna be different.” Well, some “things” are already apparent in my world.
1. A growing digital divide: My daughter is enrolled in private school where students learn via teleclass per the official 2019/2020 schedule, including gym. My son attends a public school where some kids lack access to the technology necessary to connect to class or to complete assignments.
2. Cash not accepted: Stores in my town display “NO CASH” notices. I worry how this affects people without bank accounts or credit cards, who must live on cash.
3. Home schooling is a bear: Telecommuting may become more common, but I am pretty sure people will still want to pack their kids off to school in the morning.
The Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event in our lifetime. Curious to see how past society emerged from a pandemic, I let my fingers fly on Google.
I learned that pandemics have blossomed all over the world since the beginning of recorded history — far more frequently than I realized. Each pandemic changed the course of history.
I feel lucky that I didn’t suffer through the Black Death in 14th century England when an estimated 30 to 40% of the population died. I feel grateful that Covid-19 is not nearly as fatal.
I have the benefit of knowing how history unfolded to drop me into 2020, so I can shudder in horror at a safe distance. All well and good but I want to know how this pandemic will affect me. And my kids. And my grandchildren.
How did the world change after past pandemics?
I expected my casual research to uncover myriad new technologies that helped people recover. What struck me is the change in attitudes of those who survived. This is what drove progress, the change in how individuals viewed the world. For example, prior to the Black Death, the Catholic Church had a stronghold on the lives of the population. People noticed that monks were not spared the plague, which led to the questioning of the superiority of the clergy and the subsequent waning of the Church’s power. Freedom of thought flourished, one of the factors that led to the growth of the middle class.
We all long for the security of certainty, but I can’t predict my post Covid-19 world, because I don’t know how people’s attitudes will change. What I can do is connect and converse with people about their ideas and consider my future in terms of sharp questions rather than quick answers. I cannot base my future on a world that no longer exists.
I must figure out the questions to ask myself. I am starting with the easy ones: What will I change to protect my family? What skills do I need and do my kids need to earn income in a changed world? What must be simplified?
As the days unroll, my questions will become more nuanced and precise, creating more powerful answers. The immediate societal changes I see, the digital divide, cash-based services and the challenges of homeschooling are just the beginning. More changes will emerge, some certainly profound.
An insidious, invisible threat has rocked our world. While grieving for my little piece of that world I need to prepare myself and my family for the physical, economic, and cultural barriers that may remain in place forever.
For now, we must hunker down at home to ride out the pandemic, work on great questions that will help create the future and trust in the explosion of human creativity that followed pandemics of the past. Human ingenuity will propel our drive to survive.