This isn’t fully a vanity post: I’m just curious how well it will age if we look back in a few months, few years. I’m okay with being wrong.
So here’s what I think: the coronavirus will help cement a shift to digitization.
My thinking is pretty simple:
A shift to automation seems likely in an economic downturn. The tech is already getting cheaper, and once companies need to let go of staff, they may just fill the gap with automation. One wonders how jobs will really return in a recovery period.
The basic idea is, “once everything’s in place, it’s easier for them to stick around.”
At the moment, China has put hundreds of millions of citizens in a strict lock-down the way only an authoritarian surveillance state can. And I’m willing to bet that the state is amping up whatever surveillance infrastructure it already has to maintain its quarantine.
The United States and the United Kingdom already have their own surveillance states. We can debate which countries have it worst, but a lot of the infrastructure (literally the technical infrastructure, but also the political and legal stuff) already exists.
When the virus fades as a major public health concern, what will happen to the new monitoring tools? Some may be decommissioned. Many will stick around, because what if we’re unprepared for the next pandemic? Some may be repurposed into the national security apparatus, some will be privatized…some will be repurposed into the privatized national security apparatus.
But it’s not just surveillance from the top-down. All the ways life changes for those of us in the masses will persist.
To be clear, I don’t think schools that cancel classes and move them all online will stay that way forever. After a long enough time of being confined to your home, limited in how often you can gather with other humans, people will be thrilled to return to normalcy.
If, for example, Covid-19 blows over in a few months, I bet tons of university students would be eager to resume classes in the fall semester. In fact, I expect a rush of excitement and celebration when the virus passes. So I’m not predicting that this virus will mean everyone goes to school and work online.
But I do think that, as schools, workplaces, social groups, etc move online, a portion of them may remain online even after things get back to normal. A portion of them will return to physical groupings, but may feel fine leaving a certain part of their activities to the online world. Once people and institutions get used to living life online, they’ll realize they can cut costs by keeping some of their lives online.
It’s a shift that’s already happening, independent of Covid-19. The virus will just accelerate it by forcing large numbers of people to get used to it, quickly.
And that brings me back to automation. Plenty of businesses will be having a tough time amidst quarantines. Some of them will be able to automate, and not just the factories and mega-corps. This or that tool will come online and do half your work for you, blah, blah, blah. If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the automation spiel already.
Point is, some businesses may be forced to automate because of the virus. They won’t be able to meet in-person as much as usual because of quarantines, the virus may prompt a recession in-wait and thus force them to downsize anyway–whatever the combination, a similar shift would happen in employment.
So there you go: when the virus has largely passed as a major public health concern, expect an overall return to normalcy. People will rejoice in being able to go back to a more human, connected, life. But more classes will be online. You won’t need to show up as often to work. Hell, you may need to find a different job. It’ll seem like we’re back to a life of convenience. It won’t be just that.
Just a minor prediction, specific enough that I’m making an actual claim (and vague enough for me to scoot by if the details are different than I expect). In any case, I know I’m hoping for the best.