June 9th 2020
Creative Producer. Poet. Stanford MBA. Author and podcast host. Telling stories for a new India.
At first, you ignore it. Then you label it a ‘them’ problem. They should have known better, acted sooner. You move on with your life. You only start to really pay attention when London and New York get affected. Not unlike terrorist attacks, lives seem to matter more in some places. Could this happen to you?
You look around you. People don’t seem to be taking this seriously yet. How could they shut down or control a country like yours anyway? No one follows rules. We don’t have the infrastructure or resources to deal with a health crisis. We’re ungovernable. Maybe we’re resistant. Our immunity is strong. The heat is a good sign. Maybe we’ll be safe.
It starts to come up more in conversations. Your friends are still joking about it, on the whole. Some are scared, they refuse to come out anymore. You laugh at them with your other friends, but privately you wonder: is it time to be more careful?
The news is changing. Papers are dedicating entire sections to this. Social media is flooded with crisis-related posts. It’s obviously trending.
Soon, little else comes up in conversations as powerful photos of pain and suffering of other countries- countries that you had labelled differently than those seen as backward, unfortunate, closed, poor- start to suffer more than you thought they would. Italy is the first global call to action.
The first time it really starts to affect you is when you start working from home. You can’t risk going to office any longer, being in an unregulated environment. At first, it’s not too bad. You’re happy to be done with the commute, have a little more time to yourself.
Then, they do it. They start to shut borders. You didn’t think that was possible. Does this mean you can’t leave? You’re blindsided when a week later, they shut the country. Wait- what does this mean for resources- food, medicine? How will you see your friends, family? What about the parties, commitments, the travel you had planned?
At first you think this can’t possibly last- no one will follow this. But resources start to get more constrained. The on-demand delivery, travel, events you took for granted are gone in a blink of an eye. You have to start planning your meals. Pictures of people hoarding protection, toilet paper rolls, food are shared all over the world.
Is this real? The debate quickly moves on: what about the poor? The community comes together in heartening ways: donations are made, food is organised. The class divide has never been sharper. The help leaves, and then you’re at home, an endless cycle of cooking, cleaning, working.
You wonder about the families with children. How are they adjusting to homeschooling, keeping their children entertained and healthy at home? What about those in long-distance relationships, about to get divorced, away from their families? What is happening to the elderly, at risk, those with chronic conditions? How do you go to hospital? There’s fear. For a while, you can’t get any protective gear: it’s all sold out.
Soon, the world is on lockdown. We’ve come to a grinding halt. Sports, Broadway, festivals. Even Burning Man. Everything is cancelled. There’s panic for a while, and then people seem to adjust, surprisingly, if they can afford to, to lockdown.
The jokes start on social media. People talk about their lives before, what they plan to do after, make fun of Zoom calls. There’s a social explosion of Houseparty. People notice the skies getting more blue, the animals coming out.
The humour dies down as the migrant crisis starts. You see pictures of the poor, dying as they struggle to go home. But what can you do? How much can you give? As time goes on, the charity dies down. This is the government’s problem: they should have thought about the poor more. You have your own issues to deal with.
People jostle to be the new leaders, experts, even though no one has any idea whats going on. There are webinars everyday around what this means for different industries, the economy, investing. People start doing skill-based workshops, exploring their creative side. Poetry, design, Youtube shows explode. The quarantine flexes mushroom.
People make bread, Dalgona coffee, post recipes. They work out and post their new bodies on Insta, still hoping for a chance to display that summer bod, even if spring is shot.
Then quarantine starts to get old. You grow restless, you miss your old life. What’s the plan? What happens after? People start sharing nostalgic photos. We count down the days. There’s talk of rebellion, breaking the rules and going back, shock that this has gone on so long.
Governments debate opening up again, as experts warn that it’s far too soon to go back to normal. Should we prioritize life or the economy? This is what it’s come to. This is actually being debated. The stock market gets stranger, even more disconnected from reality.
Oil prices go negative. VC’s stop promising they’re still doing deals. Do macroeconomic rules hold anymore? Celebrating clear skies and clear air seems stale now. Would you risk your life for personal freedom?
Trials start, countries compete in the rush to come up with a cure. Miracle drugs are tried and fail, misinformation is rampant. It’s becoming clearer that despite all the simulation models, no one really understands the spread. Front line workers struggle with exhaustion, get sick, die.
There isn’t enough equipment, enough resources. We’re not prepared even if we should have been. We’ve had more than enough warning. We just chose not to act.
Countries start to get blamed, as magic bullet cures are painted as false promises. We underestimated the enemy. Are we doing too little? Is it too late? As global supply chains falter, states enforce new immigration rules. You worry about a police state. How long can we have every move monitored? At how many points will you check people’s temperature, take their blood?
We dream of going back. The pause highlights how unsustainable our lives were: the on-demand access, the constant travel, the false online lives. You can see influencers break down, and the new rise of authenticity. Tik Tok over Insta. And yet, we dream of going back.
Then people worry about mental health. Should we be productive during a crisis? Then the job cuts start. AirBnb lays off 25% of its staff. The US loses 20 million jobs. That quickly shuts down the debate. There’s no question of work life balance, if there’s no work to be done. Twitter announces an indefinite work from home.
Is the office dead? Is it time to look for a new job, go freelance, start a company, make a career pivot, apply for an MBA? Obviously, starting a podcast is the answer. You google building an online community. Is everyone going to get creative? Are we seeing the rise of a passion economy? But who’s paying?
In some ways, you can see the bright side. You now know your neighbours: you talk to your family more, you keep your friends close. Who knows when your’e going to meet new people, or have spontaneous, unplanned interactions next?
The days start to blur together. It’s easy to feel like you’re in a time loop: what do weekends mean anymore? Should we all celebrate our birthdays next year? Lockdown 1, 2, 3. By the fourth one, the announcements are a joke. The days of clapping and singing and lighting candles are over. Creators are only watching the speeches to create memes.
At least we’re self-aware enough to laugh about the dystopia we’re living in.
You’re questioning if there’s a way out of this. Everyone is. Now there’s no talk of after. There’s extensive debate around the ‘new normal’. What will work, travel, entertainment look like? Is it time to invest in a VR headset? Are your visas still valid? Governments are announcing relief packages, loans, printing money, the rules around lending, debt, firing employees, wage laws are changing. Maybe it’s finally the time to invest in crypto.
A few countries seem to be doing well. But they’re rich, sparsely populated. What hope does a country like yours have? Are you exceptionally well positioned, as the world gets more flat, more globally connected, as work increasingly gets digital, remote outsourced, or are you on the brink of a crisis: as the poor suffer, migrants leave? What will cities do without the people that run it: delivery and construction workers, cleaners, security, staff?
It’s time for reinvention. Going digital is no longer a choice. Travel, leisure, luxury, hospitality is dead. We knew our previous lives didn’t work, they were unsustainable: we just didn’t want to admit it to ourselves. We were addicted to the convenience. New industries will necessarily mushroom. There’s always opportunity in a crisis.
The wealthy start to consider moving to second homes, buying more property, where at least they can be safe. They’ll survive, even if nothing else does. Periodically, we remember the dead. Celebrities are mourned. Periodically, we celebrate the front line heroes.
Inward, then outward, then inward again. Physical, emotional health, loneliness, families, friends, ageing, the sick, the dying. Rich countries. Poor countries. Innovation. Resources. New jobs. Old jobs. Layoffs. Stock market. Oil. Global deals. Time. What’s next?
Has anything really changed? How many deaths does it take?
Read the above again.
Pandemic or climate change?