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After the 'Rona
« on: April 25, 2020, 04:59:43 AM »

Standing up a thread for how life will change after the coronavirus. If there is an after.

This is from Fast Company, so it is biased toward the go-go world of American business, and has a technological slant. But useful nonetheless. 

Even though they touch on health care, not a whisper about the elephant in the room.

All the things COVID-19 will change forever, according to 30 top experts
Tech exec, VCs, and analysts on the pandemic’s lasting impact on how we live, work, and think.

We’re four weeks into the massive time-out forced on us by coronavirus. Many of us have spent much of that time trying to get used to the radical lifestyle change the virus has brought. But we’re also beginning to think about the end of the crisis, and what the world will look like afterward.

So it’s a good time to round up some opinions about how the pandemic might change how we think about various aspects of life and work. We asked some executives, venture capitalists, and analysts for thoughts on the specific changes they expected to see in their worlds.

Naturally, many of them tended to see the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis in optimistic terms, at least when it comes to their own products, ideas, and causes. And at least some of them are probably right. But the general themes in their comments add up to preview of what might be ahead for tech companies and consumers once the virus is no longer the biggest news story in the world.

The responses below have been edited for publication.

Working from home becomes the new normal

Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare
The pandemic has resulted in what is effectively the largest “work from home” experiment ever conducted in human history . . . We’re seeing the effect on the internet, in terms of traffic patterns that are shifting. People are accessing more educational resources online for their kids; finding unconventional ways to connect with coworkers, friends, and family; and employers are being more flexible in how they respond to employee needs through more dynamic, cloud-based technology. I think we’ll see these shifts last well beyond the immediate fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Jared Spataro, corporate vice president, Microsoft 365
This time will go down as a turning point for the way people work and learn. We have a time machine as China navigates its return back to work—and we’re not seeing usage of Microsoft Teams dip. People are carrying what they learned and experienced from remote work back to their “new normal.” We’re learning so much about sustained remote work during this time.

Remote hiring of technical talent will become the norm.”

Vivek Ravisankar, HackerRank
Jeff Richards, partner at the venture capital firm GGV Capital
I travel over 200,000 miles per year for work. Now that doing board meetings, interviews, and other mission-critical meetings via video chat has been normalized, will I reduce my travel? I don’t know, but I definitely think it’s a behavior shift that will stick. In the past, if you joined via video, you were thought of as “mailing it in.” Now it’s become an accepted form of participation. Net/net, I still think we’ll see corporate travel [come back], as nothing is better than an in-person meeting with a customer or exec hire candidate. But for routine meetings, I think we are going to see a lot more video. I also think Zoom has crossed the rubicon from “corporate” to “consumer” as everyone in my family age 5-75 now knows how to use it. That’s a game-changer.

Tim Bajarin, principal analyst at Creative Strategies
We talked to CIOs recently, and they told us that they are becoming more comfortable with at least some of their staff working from home. Two CIOs even quantified it by saying they might consider letting as much as 25% of their staff work from home. That would mean less people in the office, and in turn, possibly less demand for office space. I believe that this could signal the death of open space work environments. The experience with COVID-19 will for years make people more aware of working in shoulder-to-shoulder open offices where it is easy for viruses to spread.

Eva Chen, CEO at Trend Micro
The COVID-19 experience will . . . build our courage to adopt new patterns to fix antiquated processes. As a result, organizations will ditch the notion of having a big office and revert back to a small-town model of working in cluster offices with more remote work. Even more so, company “headquarters” will be located in the cloud, shifting how we protect enterprise data in the virtual cloud and how we secure data from more diverse endpoints.

Sampriti Ganguli, CEO of the social venture firm Arabella Advisors
We are . . . all becoming “BBC Man,” meaning our kids and dogs routinely rush our meetings. We’ve probably crossed the chasm between what is acceptable in the office and what is acceptable at home, and in many ways, these more intimate moments allow us to have deeper and more meaningful connections as humans. I don’t think we’re going back to a world of working mostly from offices anytime soon, and as such, there are new business norms that work for home and work.

Steve Case, cofounder AOL, CEO and chairman of Revolution
[We] believe the COVID-19 pandemic will encourage people—entrepreneurs, investors, and employees—to consider opportunities outside of the coastal tech hubs. People who have been considering a move, to tap into the sector expertise (healthcare, food and agriculture, etc.) that exists in many parts of the country, or for a lifestyle change, or to be near family and friends, may choose this moment to relocate, accelerating a talent boomerang, and helping emerging startup cities rise. On top of that, the increased willingness to accept remote working as a viable arrangement following this prolonged work-from-home period will further propel this trend.

Vivek Ravisankar, CEO and cofounder of programming-challenge platform HackerRank
Remote hiring of technical talent will become the norm, accelerated by the normalization of remote work. This is a win-win for the economy and the talent pool, as it allows companies to fill positions quickly with qualified talent and opens up high-paying tech positions to developers everywhere. We were already seeing the shift toward prioritizing skills over pedigree in hiring. That will now evolve to skills over geography, making our tech talent pool more diverse, and our businesses and economy stronger.

AJ Shankar, CEO and cofounder of Everlaw
In the modern work environment, real-time communication mediums like chat allow for a certain blurring of the line between personal life and work life, an “always-on” mentality. But now, in a COVID world, that line has never been more blurred: There is no physical separation at all. So I predict that expectations around availability will change—for the better. For employee-friendly companies, evening hours will ultimately revert to family or personal time, as they should. This won’t happen automatically; a change in mindset and process is required.

The digital migration accelerates

Stan Chudnovsky, VP of Messenger, Facebook
It’s becoming more clear every day that the way people are using technology to spend quality time with loved ones, engage with businesses, and perform their jobs is fundamentally shifting to a new normal. Loved ones who hadn’t seen each other in years are now seeing each other daily, people are getting creative with virtual happy hours and keeping up with their formerly “physical” lives with shared workouts and virtual birthday parties on products like Messenger. Of course, there will be some tough consequences when we come out the other side of this, but I believe the growing acceptance of technology to help us feel connected will have lasting benefits.

Michael Hendrix, partner and global design director, Ideo
Right now, the virus seems like an accelerator for digital change that was already underway . . . the surprise has been to see the resistance to this digital change suddenly evaporate. What organizations resisted for a decade is now core to survival and innovation. It is exciting, because this digital mindset will persist, and it is highly unlikely companies will try to return to what worked prior to the pandemic.

We could get to a state of nearly universal online access at home.”

Sal Khan, Khan Academy
Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, CEO and president (respectively) of cryptocurrency exchange Gemini
The pandemic has forced the government to intervene in the economy in ways that are completely unprecedented. The Faustian bargain of money printing and debt accumulation will cause people to reevaluate fiat currency regimes altogether. At some point, people will start to question the value of the dollars they hold and what will happen when the inevitable day of debt reckoning arrives.

Alex Farr, founder and CEO of voice tech company Zammo
Using videoconferencing is not only going to become a more common part of life due to this pandemic—the way it shows up through our tech devices will multiply. At work and at home, we’ll ask voice assistants to call our client, our boss, our mom, our friends, and on command, Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, etc., will take us right to those live video conversations.

Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp
As people have been forced physically apart we’ve seen them make far more video calls on WhatsApp than ever before. These are intimate and private conversations that people expect no one else should see–no different than if you were talking in person. Not criminals, not hackers, not even a company. I believe that our shared experience of being physically isolated from one another will cause us to appreciate and value the privacy and security that comes with end-to-end encryption even more than we did before.

Education goes virtual

Simon Allen, CEO of McGraw-Hill
The change we are seeing right now in education is not something that is likely to revert back to “normal” in the fall. Although teachers will always be integral to the education process, there will need to be continued flexibility and agility when it comes to things like the delivery of content, testing, and grading. I expect that we will see an increase in blended learning environments that include learning in both the physical classroom setting and online.

Adam Enbar, CEO of Flatiron School
Right now, educators are relying on Zoom and Slack to teach and engage with students. We’re realizing it’s falling short in replicating the classroom experience, but the truth is that it was never meant to be a substitute. In fact, no ed-tech tool or platform can or should replicate the in-person classroom; tech’s role is to create new experiences altogether. Nothing spurs innovation like people experiencing problems. When things are back to normal, Zoom and Slack usage will go down—and that’s okay. Instead, we’ll see a boom in technology that is built by entrepreneurs looking to create entirely new experiences custom to the remote education or work experience.

Sal Khan, founder and CEO of educational nonprofit Khan Academy
The need for online access and devices in every home is now so dire that it may finally mobilize society to treat internet connectivity as a must-have rather than a nice-to-have. We’re already seeing governments, school districts, philanthropists, and corporations step up to close the digital divide. If this continues to happen, we could get to a state of nearly universal online access at home.

Healthcare confronts some old problems

Dr. Claire Novorol, cofounder and chief medical officer, Ada Health
The adoption of digital health tools—from assessment services to telemedicine—has rapidly accelerated, with healthcare organizations across the world looking to digital solutions to support their efforts against the pandemic, and health tech companies keen to rise to the occasion in support of healthcare payers, providers and patients alike. It’s clear that we are witnessing a step-change in the adoption of digital health solutions, and that this has long-term potential. The healthcare industry will be greatly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and we can expect digital health technologies to form an essential part of the way forward.

Pat Combes, worldwide technical leader, healthcare and life sciences at AWS
The biggest barrier to ensuring doctors have the most complete medical history on any patient, at every point of their care, is the lack of interoperability among systems, preventing data and electronic health records from following a patient throughout their care journey. Bringing this information together is a manual and time-consuming process. But, this is one of those pivotal moments in time when we have an opportunity to identify and work to fix the underlying problems that plague our system, with so many researchers, health systems, governments, and enterprises pooling efforts and data to better understand and combat COVID-19.

Ara Katz, cofounder and co-CEO, Seed Health
At a time when misinformation is especially rampant, and in many recent cases, dangerous, it is imperative that those working in science collectively steward and uphold a standard for how information is translated and shared to the public. COVID-19 is a reminder of how science informs decisions, shapes policy, and can save lives. The antidote to this current infodemic may be as important to our collective future as a vaccine.

Harry Ritter, founder and CEO of wellness professional community Alma
There will be a monumental shift in attitudes toward mental health. [S]ociety, having experienced this collective trauma and grief, will develop new levels of empathy and a willingness to talk about mental healthcare as an essential part of healthcare in ways we have not seen before. Employers are already seeing how emotional well-being is factoring into their workforce’s ability to perform under stress. Ideally they will come out of this better able to recognize their obligation to prioritize mental healthcare as an employee benefit.

Peter Chapman, CEO and president, quantum-computing company IonQ
Within the next 12 to 18 months, we’re expecting quantum computers to start to routinely solve problems that supercomputers and cloud computing cannot. When humanity faces the next pandemic, I’m hopeful that a quantum computer will be able to model the virus, its interactions within the human body that will drive possible solutions, and limit the future economic damage and human suffering.

Venture capital hunkers down

David Barrett, CEO and founder of Expensify
The COVID-19 crisis has swiftly exposed the fragile underbellies of many companies, especially those in tech that have been propped up by huge funding rounds and strategies that require massive monthly burn rates. They’re now teetering on the edge of collapse, with most facing layoffs across the board and some searching for buyers as a last resort. On the other hand, profitable companies . . . are simply tightening their belts and carrying on with business (mostly) as usual. Going forward, investors’ mindsets and qualifications about what constitutes a truly “valuable” company will change. Rather than focusing on the quantitative aspects like funding rounds and revenue, investors will place a greater emphasis on the qualitative aspects, such as an organization’s structure, team, culture, flexibility, and profitability.

Restaurants might permanently link up with delivery service platforms or expand their reach via ghost kitchens.”

Will Lopez, Gusto
Sean Park, CIO & cofounder at venture platform Anthemis
COVID-19 has put a sudden halt on fast money and “FOMO” investing, forcing the VC industry to slow down, resist the inclination to follow the herd, and refocus on more robust due diligence and analysis. Thesis-driven investors will be able to take the time to spend a month or two (or three) to really get to know the team, understand the business model, capital structure, and the market before closing a deal.

Transportation rebounds, and evolves

Michael Masserman, global head of policy and social impact, Lyft
As we look to the reopening of cities, people will be looking for affordable, reliable ways to stay socially distant while commuting, including turning to transportation options such as ride share, bike share, and scooters. There will also be an opportunity for local governments, as well as key advocates and stakeholders, to consider reshaping our cities to be built around people and not cars.

Avi Meir, cofounder and CEO, TravelPerk
Countries and regions will emerge from lockdown at different paces, leading to “corridors of travel” between destinations opening back up one by one. We’re already beginning to see early signs of a modest pickup in travel again in Asia Pacific, as the local pressure of the virus lessens. When travel does begin to resume, domestic travel will be first. For most countries, that means taking a train, not least because they’re less crowded.

Manufacturing gets a wake-up call

Ed Barriball, partner in McKinsey’s Manufacturing and Supply Chain Practice
In the short term, companies are concerned about the shortages of critical goods across the supply chain, and some are looking for alternative sources closer to home. In the long term, once we emerge from the current crisis, we expect businesses and governments to focus on better quantifying the risks faced and incorporating potential losses into business cases. These businesses will model the size and impact of various shock scenarios to determine actions they should take to rebuild their supply chains and simultaneously build resilience for the future. These actions could include bringing suppliers closer to home but could also include a range of other resilience investments.

Amar Hanspal, former CEO at Autodesk and now CEO at Bright Machines
This pandemic will have a lasting impact . . . on the way physical products are made. Customers I talk to are grappling with supply chain and factory disruptions across the globe. This has been a wake-up call to manufacturers. The current way of building products in centralized factories with low-cost labor halfway around the world simply can’t weather storms of uncertainty. Moving forward, factories and supply chains will require, and businesses will mandate, much more resilient manufacturing through nearshoring and even onshoring, full automation, and software-based management.

New thinking changes old businesses

Sarah Stein Greenberg, executive director of the Stanford
In times of great uncertainty, the most critical skill is to be able to adapt as conditions change. This is a kind of ambidexterity: focusing on surviving in the current moment while you also build toward thriving in a future that will look different. To get there, successful leaders are creating and holding space in organizations for people to be generative, despite the challenging and stressful environment. Drawing from one of the fundamental strengths of design: by separating the process of generating ideas from critiquing and selecting them, we are seeing organizations and individuals rewarded with a far wider range of potential solutions.

Will Lopez, head of accountant community at HR platform Gusto
COVID-19 isn’t the end of brick-and-mortar stores—they’re vital to our communities and our economy—but the way they operate will change. This crisis will force small businesses that have historically relied on foot traffic as their main source of income to develop alternative revenue streams so they can weather the next major event. For example, many restaurants might permanently link up with delivery service platforms or expand their geographic reach via ghost kitchens, and more boutiques will develop an online presence that reaches beyond their local neighborhoods.

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After The Coronavirus Passes, Your World Will Not Go Back To Normal
« Reply #1 on: April 25, 2020, 05:08:39 AM »

After The Coronavirus Passes, Your World Will Not Go Back To Normal
Before the pandemic began, the systems that govern our world were brittle. Today, they are broken. When we emerge, the world will be different, and so will we.

Ryan Broderick
BuzzFeed News Reporter

I ruined the mood in a family group chat last week. Someone shared a meme that read, “This #Coronavirus is turning me into a democrat. I’m staying at home, not working, complaining about everything, and waiting for a check from the government.”

Another family member used the yearly death rate of the flu to dismiss concerns over the coronavirus. Then someone else argued that millions of people die around the world every year in car accidents. “Will cars be banned,” they snarkily asked.

I tried not to react emotionally, but it’s hard to keep your cool after weeks of trying to convince older relatives every day to stay inside and socially distance. “We’re currently at half as many American coronavirus deaths as the number of people who died on 9/11,” I replied, using the only statistic I’ve found that communicates the kind of world-changing loss that this pandemic will cause. “If Dr. Fauci’s projections are correct, it will be the equivalent of 30–60 9/11s.”

The chat went quiet for a while after that.

The numbers I was referring to have quickly gone out of date — they’re much higher now. But comparing this pandemic to other mass casualty, world-shaping events is the only way I know to make them resonate.

As of this week, more than 5,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus — more than the 2,977 who died on September 11, 2001. More than any other event in my life, 9/11 changed the world: inspiring national security policies like the Patriot Act, jump-starting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — the latter of which has become the longest-running war in US history — and leading to the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Department of Homeland Security, effectively militarizing the United States’ borders and immigration services.

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, optimistically, if we continue practicing social distancing, between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans would die of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Projections are always bounded by inaccuracies (and there have been plenty in the past few months) — but if Fauci were correct, the death toll would be as if there were a 9/11 attack every day for the next two to three months.

My grandmother was born in 1928; she spent the first 10 years of her life living through the Great Depression in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and the last five years of her life hoarding food until it rotted in her fridge and pantry. The trauma never left. Neither will the trauma of thousands upon thousands of deaths once it’s safe to leave our homes. When we emerge, we will be different people in a different world.

“The Authoritarian Creep”

If China’s claim to have won supremacy over the virus is to be believed, the country was able to make up for a botched early response by mobilizing its vast and intricate surveillance infrastructure to carry out an authoritarian crackdown, the terrifying scale of which is only matched by the terrifying fear among Western liberals that it was necessary.

Payment apps like Alipay and WeChat installed software to track users' movements. China’s state-run telecom color-coded users’ phones in red, green, and yellow, based on their risk of possible infection — which were then checked by guards at train stations. Those who broke quarantine were reported to the police. Chinese social media platforms like Weibo and WeChat were heavily censored to quell conspiracy theories and rumors.

Those efforts may be working. The country is reporting that its case numbers are decreasing, and it has banned virtually all foreigners from entering the country as it attempts to return to normal without a second spike.

Yet it’s hard to know exactly how real the claims are that China has flattened its curve. Three US officials told Bloomberg on Wednesday that the US intelligence community had concluded China’s numbers are actually much higher than what’s been reported.

But with the US and Europe struggling to contain the outbreak, analysts have started asking whether China will emerge from this pandemic as the new global superpower. Jeremy Lee Wallace, a Cornell professor and leader of the university’s China's Cities research group, told BuzzFeed News the country is definitely attempting to position itself as a new global leader amid the pandemic.

“[China] styled itself a leader in climate change and international trade following the election of Donald Trump and is proudly boasting of its successes in fighting COVID-19,” Wallace said. “Whether it will work depends on the outcomes in other countries and how those outcomes are perceived.”

Presenting itself as a responsible custodian is now central to the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda strategy. Chinese diplomats and state media outlets are sparring directly with President Donald Trump’s own ad hoc online army on platforms like Twitter and YouTube, criticizing the US for its inability to mitigate the damage of the outbreak.

Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire cofounder of the multinational tech company Alibaba Group, recently tweeted two photos of medical supplies being loaded onto a China Cargo Airlines flight. “The first shipment of masks and coronavirus test kits to the US is taking off from Shanghai. All the best to our friends in America,” Ma wrote.

According to the Jack Ma Foundation, the shipment contained 500,000 testing kits and 1 million masks. Ma’s foundations have already claimed to have shipped 1.8 million masks and 100,000 test kits to other heavily affected countries.

Chinese state media is very aware it’s a Chinese billionaire shipping tests and masks around the world, not an American one. “China has shared its experience, but many Western countries are just not willing to follow. When the pandemic is over, these countries will find that it was not China that had led to the severe conditions in the US and Europe, but their own wrong judgments and choices,” the Global Times wrote Wednesday.

David Jacobson, professor of global business strategy at Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business and a visiting professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, told BuzzFeed News he worries China’s test-and-mask diplomacy could fall apart, citing reports of European countries sending back faulty equipment.

“In the world of the Communist Party state propaganda, which is probably the most powerful arm right now because it's trying to globally set the narrative of how China's viewed, they're saying, ‘We're here to help, we learned all these lessons, and we're here to help the world.’” he said.

Jacobson said he’s optimistic that countries will see through the spin. “The world is seeing the sham,” he said. “If the tests don't work, test diplomacy doesn't work.”

But it’s not just in an ascendant China — an authoritarian COVID-19 creep is on the rise everywhere.

NPR called semi-authoritarian city-state Singapore a “coronavirus model.” The country flattened its curve by setting up early proactive measures like a virus-fighting task force, strict hospital and home quarantines, and a ban on large gatherings. It also used a technique called contact tracing, building a movement log of the infected through surveillance footage, digital signatures left by ATM card withdrawals or credit card payments, and a Bluetooth-tracking smartphone app called TraceTogether.

The European Union now has its first dictatorship. On Monday, the Hungarian Parliament passed a bill giving Prime Minister Viktor Orbán the right to rule by decree indefinitely, establishing a COVID-19 state of emergency without a time limit, suspending both Parliament and elections, and instituting prison time for spreading “fake news” or rumors.

Countries like Israel, Italy, and Austria are working with their telecommunications networks to use anonymized location data to track people in infection hot spots and monitor if citizens are breaking stay-in-place orders. Russia is using its massive 170,000-camera facial recognition system to catch people who violate quarantine and self-isolation. Hong Kong has deployed electronic bracelets for those who test positive for the virus. Turkmenistan’s state-controlled media outlets are no longer allowed to use the word “coronavirus,” and it has been removed from health information brochures.

India has been particularly aggressive about containing the pandemic and tracking the infected. The country has experimented with stamping people who have been infected with ink that doesn’t wash off for weeks. The Indian central government is seeking a ruling from the country’s Supreme Court that would force all media outlets to receive approval to print, publish, or telecast content about COVID-19. And in the country’s southern state of Karnataka, quarantined people are now required to download an app on their phones, through which they must take and send a selfie — which includes GPS coordinates in its metadata — every hour to government officials.

US companies like Facebook and Google are discussing how to track infection hot spots using anonymized location data, while American leaders are asking if the coronavirus is the kind of emergency that requires setting aside privacy and civil liberties.

“A Greater Depression”

The immediate effects of the pandemic — postponed weddings, canceled vacations, empty supermarket shelves, sinking housing prices, salary cuts, layoffs — suggest no one will come out of this period without losing something. But we are only at the beginning.

Predicting how bad things will get economically is difficult. A viral outbreak of this scale has only happened once before in the industrialized world: the 1918 influenza pandemic that hit the world in two seasonal waves, killing 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 in the US. That pandemic occurred during World War I, which makes it hard to compare to now, even setting aside all the other changes in the past century.

But according to a 2007 research paper on the economic effects of the 1918 pandemic, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the economic effects of the outbreak only lasted for a short time.

“Many businesses, especially those in the service and entertainment industries, suffered double-digit losses in revenue,” the paper read. “Society as a whole recovered from the 1918 influenza quickly, but individuals who were affected by the influenza had their lives changed forever. Given our highly mobile and connected society, any future influenza pandemic is likely to be more severe in its reach, and perhaps in its virulence.”

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I Have Seen the Future—And It’s Not the Life We Knew
« Reply #2 on: May 03, 2020, 05:17:33 AM »
I Have Seen the Future—And It’s Not the Life We Knew
Cities around the world might slowly be coming back to life, but there’s no going back to “normal.”

Uri Friedman
SongJoon Cho / Bloomberg / Getty

Last week, confined to my home in America, I glimpsed the future. Or more precisely, one of several possible post-pandemic futures.

Christopher Suzanne, an American who teaches English in Wuhan, China, took me on a tour of the city where the novel coronavirus originated, where the first lockdown was implemented, and where restrictions are now being eased as the outbreak ebbs.

On a video call, as he ran an errand around 11 p.m. on a weeknight, Suzanne showed me a largely lifeless street that would typically be bustling at that hour. He walked past dark, boarded-up storefronts; one lit-up restaurant with three empty bar stools assembled outside and some perceptible human activity inside; another restaurant with a table blocking its door and a menu planted on the sidewalk for customers wishing to place their to-go orders; a few people in masks milling about the entrance to a kebab joint.

This was not normal. “If you’re familiar with Spanish culture, they [have] the siesta during the daytime, and then they’ll come back out at night full force. That’s Wuhan culture, just without the siesta,” he explained, his voice muffled by an N95 mask.

When he caught a taxi to head home, Suzanne had to present the driver with documents detailing his health status, which were checked and photographed. When he arrived at the gated community where he lives, a masked police officer wearing gloves scanned his wrist to check his temperature before allowing him inside. Suzanne carried a card, a kind of pass to the outside world, that listed his temperature each time he left the compound. “It’s not just for taxis. It’s to leave your community. It’s to go into the hospital. It’s to go to even those small restaurants that I just showed you. If I wanted to buy something from that kebab place, I would have [had] to scan a code or show them my paperwork,” he said.

One of the strangest things about this pandemic is that while it’s afflicting the entire world, it’s doing so asynchronously, transforming countries into cautionary tales and object lessons, ghosts of outbreaks past, present, and yet to come.

As the United States engages in its own agonizingdebate about how far to go in easing lockdown measures, I’ve spoken with people in China, South Korea, Austria, and Denmark to get a sense of what they’re witnessing as their countries’ respective coronavirus curves flatten, their social-distancing restrictions abate, and they venture out into life again. And although that life doesn’t look like the present nightmare those still locked in coronavirus limbo are experiencing, it doesn’t look like the pre-COVID-19 past either.

Here are some of the common themes:

There are two kinds of post-lockdown people.

Zak Dychtwald, who runs Young China Group, a consultancy focused on Chinese Millennials, noted in an email to subscribers that the coronavirus crisis has sown “fear that the careful balance of our lives—personal, financial, or otherwise—can be broken at a moment’s notice.” Dychtwald has observed two types of responses to that fear, based on interviews he’s done with Chinese contacts over WeChat and his reading of Chinese sources.

Some people, who skew younger, are taking the “YOLO” approach of enjoying life while they can because “tomorrow isn’t promised.” They’re eating out, hanging out, “revenge shopping,” traveling. “In the last few days Chinese friends in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu have sent video[s] of dense crowds drinking and partying hard on club dance floors,” he wrote. But others, especially those walloped by the economic toll of the lockdown, have resolved to “live cautiously” because “life is fragile.”

People wearing masks walk over a bridge near the Yeouido district of Seoul. (Ed Jones / AFP / Getty)

Sujin Chun, a staff writer who covers global affairs for the South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo, told me that bars, restaurants, and public transportation are filling up again in the country, which has one of the world’s best test-and-trace systems for COVID-19 and never had to go into full lockdown. Still, she added, “We are very well aware that it is not time to relax and [think], Things are normal now; let’s party. It’s not like that.”

Read: Georgia’s experiment in human sacrifice

In Austria, many companies are continuing to urge employees to work remotely if they can, even though nothing prohibits them from returning to the office, Thomas Czypionka, a health-policy expert at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna, told me. When restrictions first eased, many people headed to big home-improvement stores—suggesting they were still contemplating spending a lot of time at home—rather than to newly reopened smaller shops where avoiding close contact with others is difficult.

Gradual reopenings can send unintended signals.

When the Danish government recently reopened day cares, kindergartens, and primary schools after its lockdown, Séamus Power and Merlin Schaeffer, both professors at the University of Copenhagen, noticed something interesting. The government had made the move in part because Denmark has the highest shareof working mothers among developed nations, and keeping young kids at home with two parents working full-time was exacting too high a cost on productivity. But many Danes seemed to see the move as a sign that the public-health threat posed by the coronavirus was subsiding. They flocked outdoors on the subsequent weekend to enjoy the spring weather, jogging and gathering in small groups in parks and public spaces.

“It’s full sunshine, some people have shorts … The parks are blooming … Everything feels like a new beginning. It’s not. We all know it’s not,” said Schaeffer, who is working with Power and other colleagues on a study of the impact of social-distancing policies on everyday routines, mental health, and family life. Their preliminary survey results suggest that people are gradually shedding practices such as frequent hand-washing, keeping social distance, and staying at home. Yet Schaeffer noted that COVID-19 cases in the country have increased from hundreds before lockdown to thousands today, “so the probability to get it is much higher now than it has ever been.” Nevertheless, people are latching onto any opportunity to extrapolate normalcy from the reopening of schools, hair salons, massage parlors, and small shops. Just “because the schools open, doesn’t mean you should stop washing your hands,” Schaeffer told me.

“People are going to keep interpreting this tiptoe back to normality in a more extreme way than it’s intended by the government,” Power said. “This has to be one of the next big challenges of the unfolding crisis around the world: when things start to open, how people are subjectively understanding this.”

Life returns in dribs and drabs, and the new normal is not the old normal.

Many of the people I spoke with described returning to a slippery sense of normalcy, a post-lockdown life that looked like the life they used to lead but failed that test upon closer inspection.

Parents and children wait to get inside Stengaard School north of Copenhagen, Denmark. (Ólafur Steinar Gestsson / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP / Getty)

Yes, schools are now open again in Denmark. But Power and Schaeffer described an alien, atomized environment of outdoor classes, hourly hand-washing, and fewer teachers. “The kids are not allowed to touch each other, to play together, to embrace each other, to do high fives, things like that,” Schaeffer said. “There’s only one child per table, because normally you have two kids sitting [at] one, two-person table.”

Chun, in Seoul, said she’s now taking public transportation again. But when she once forgot to wear a mask on the bus, she got aggressive stares. “I sort of get it myself. Because this is a time to be extra careful,” she said. Chun is back at the newsroom, but with guards at the entrances to take people’s temperature and hand sanitizer everywhere. She is receiving fewer emergency text messages from the government than she did at the height of the outbreak in South Korea, but they’re still a presence in her life: She’d recently received one confirming another COVID-19 case in her neighborhood and alerting her to which restaurants in the area he had visited. She had “mixed feelings” about the messages, which provided helpful information but also had an unnerving “Big Brother” feel to them. Some people say “now is [the] time for Big Brother, for protection,” she said.

Graeme Wood: There’s no simple way to reopen universities

Justin Lovett, an American freelance videographer and photographer in South Korea, worries that people are more suspicious of him in public now because the main remaining transmission pathway for the virus in the country is through foreigners traveling there. He’s back to being shoulder to shoulder with people on the subway, but he makes sure to wear a mask and avoids coughing or sneezing, “because I know everyone’s noticed me already.”

Children wear masks while playing at the zoo in Wuhan, China. (Getty)

In Wuhan, the city is coming alive again, Suzanne told me when I checked in with him this week. Trains, highways, and buses are humming anew and people venture out more. Yet many businesses have not reopened, many people (including Suzanne and his wife) are still working from home, many restaurants are still open only for takeout, and the local economy is still a shadow of its former self. “There’s a lot of traffic, but looking around, I just don’t know where these people are going,” he said.

"I don’t want people to think Wuhan is this booming city again, and everyone’s ready to go, and the economy is roaring,” he added. “No, it’s 20–30 percent open for business. Maybe 70 percent of people are outside."

Living in the shadow of another wave is scary.

To ease restrictions, at least for some time, is to fly blind. Once lockdowns are loosened, the coronavirus’s long incubation period means governments won’t detect any resultant increase in infection rates for many days, Czypionka explained. That’s why the Austrian government is lifting its lockdown in phases. “Until we have substantial immunity, either through infection or vaccination, social distancing and masks on some occasions will accompany us for a year or more,” he told me.

On the Friday afternoon after schools reopened in Denmark, Power sat on a park bench with a colleague and had a beer. “We talked about everything except coronavirus,” and it gave him “a sense of hope that things are opening and maybe a model of how things might look. But if I think about it intellectually, I’m more cautious.” Schaeffer interjected. It could be “a false sense of hope,” he noted. After all, the Danish government has indicated that some social-distancing measures will stay in place until the end of the year and that life might shut down again if infection rates increase. “We will not reach pre-corona life” in 2020, he said.

Read: Why the coronavirus is so confusing

As Dychtwald sees it, both the carefree and cautious responses to post-lockdown life in China are informed by the specter of a second wave of the virus. “The first are having fun in what feels like [it] could be the eye of the storm. The second are battening down the hatches,” he wrote.

A couple lies on the grass in the garden of Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria. (Getty)

Suzanne said that although he’s still fearful of the virus, he “can’t be inside locked up” for long. Nevertheless, he’s not spending time with friends, in part because there are few places to meet, but also because everyone knows this ordeal isn’t over. The government is still sending texts with messages such as “‘wash your hands, be afraid, the second wave may be coming,’ so everyone is kind of expecting this second wave. And we definitely don’t want to be a part of it,” he explained.

Read: We are living in a failed state

“In the very beginning of the lockdown you start thinking, Oh, this is just a quick thing; it’s just like a hurricane; it’ll be done in a couple of days,” Suzanne continued. “And then a couple of weeks into it, you start reading into conspiracy theories and rabbit holes, and then you get past that point, and you’re talking with your group-chat buddies and they’re sharing their cooking videos, and how they’re using beer and ketchup to cook food, just to make jokes. And then it gets to this point like, okay, this is getting old … when is it going to go back” to normal?

If Suzanne, in Wuhan, is asking that question, then what does it mean for those of us on the other side of the world still very much in the midst of our outbreaks? More than four months into the worst pandemic in a century, no one can predict whether we’ll ever return to something like the life we used to know.

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Offline Surly1

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Re: After the 'Rona
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2020, 09:08:26 AM »
R.I.P., the American Economy
Trump’s America is Facing Unparalleled Economic Disaster

See that chart above? That’s the American economy, dying. It shows retail sales across the economy — and as you can see, the line plunges off the chart into the abyss. Add that to figures showing 36 million people and counting filing for unemployment in the last six weeks. Just half the US population is now employed. GDP cratering — and expected to fall further.

What’s the picture that’s emerging? Of an economy plunging heading into an historic depression. One that is shaping up to be a Greater Depression.

Let me take a moment to explain.

The retail sales number is especially vital because it confirms a key part of the vicious spiral of depression — the one that we economists hope never to see emerging. First, there’s some kind of shock — natural calamity, a sudden shortage, a banking crisis, or in this case, a pandemic.
Then, mass unemployment leads to less spending leads to mass bankruptcies across businesses leads to…mass unemployment. Only this time, the unemployment is long-term, not just short-term, because waves of business have shuttered their doors.

The economy is now at a permanently lower level of the following things: employment, income, savings, assets, and the things those thriving economic fundamentals underpin, like trust, optimism, happiness, and most crucially, confidence. As people lose confidence, they stop spending, and start saving what little they can. Bang! Depression has now set in. And this is what we are beginning to see emerging in America.

America’s economy is based on consumption like almost no other in the world. About a full 70 to 75% of it — depending how you count — is consumption. That means: people buying things, whether jeans, computers, cars, or food. That number is much lower elsewhere — for example, in France, consumption is only about 50% of the economy. Americans have long enjoyed being the world’s most voracious consumers — and I don’t mean that in a judgmental way, just an analytical one. The benefit of having a world economy designed for you — the American consumer — is that you get to buy more stuff, cheaper than anyone else.

But because America’s economy is so disproportionately based on consumption, it’s long had an Achilles heel, too. It’s especially vulnerable to slowdowns in consumption. That’s why there’s an obsessive focus from Wall St and Washington DC on “growth”, which really means “how much people are buying.” If people stop spending — even by a few percentage points — the whole economy begins to shake. The house of cards can crumble just like that — because consumption is a fickle beast.

There you are, just some average person in America. You’ve been forced “back to work,” by your governor, by the man who calls himself a President. Part of you is glad — at least you’re not furloughed anymore. That government stimulus check? It was barely enough to pay the bills for a week or two — and so you need the money. So back you go. To that restaurant you cook at, the bar you tend, that shop you man, that store you manage. With a sense of relief — mixed with trepidation. Will it all be over soon? Will life go back to normal? You cross your fingers, and hope.

But on that first day back, nobody much seems to lighten your door. You used to have twenty customers a day, now you have two. You used to have two hundred, now you have twenty. People, it seems, aren’t spending like they used to. Aren’t shopping like the were before. Ah, well, you tell yourself. It’s just the first day. Surely things will pick up soon.

But by the end of that week, nothing much has changed. Your old customer base hasn’t returned — although maybe they call and email you to tell you they hope you’re doing well. They’re not bad folks. You don’t blame them. But you do feel a sense of rising anger and frustration. The bills are mounting. If sales don’t go up, you’re going to have lay people off soon. Maybe you’ll be laid off yourself. By the end of the month — since most small and medium sized businesses exist month-to-month, like most American households do now — bankruptcy looms. And when you realize that, a twinge of fear numbs you right down in the pit of the stomach. What will you do then? You stifle the thought, with effort. You need to be strong now.

But the fear doesn’t go away. You’re manning a ghost bar, store, restaurant, hotel. All you have is time, and anxiety.

A month later, laying off your best employees, being laid off yourself, signing those bankruptcy papers at some finely cherrywood-paneled lawyer’s office, you realize. What economists call a permanent change in patterns of consumption had taken place. People stayed home — good and fine people, just people afraid for their families. You had too — off you went to work dutifully, every day, hoping for some respite — but you yourself had told your partner and kids to stay home and save money. That’s what everyone was doing — well, everyone who wasn’t a bleach-drinking “lockdown liberation” protestor. Everyone sane, in other words, stayed home — precisely because reopening the economy too soon had spread the virus faster, the death toll still hadn’t peaked, and so confidence and optimism had shattered.

And so the vicious spiral of depression had set in. Bang! You see your future turning to dust. And as an economy dies, you understand: it was always about human potential, this abstraction called “the economy”, and whether people can make the most of their — or not.
Let me distill the moral of my little story.

The US economy, like we’ve discussed is especially reliant on consumption. That means it’s especially dependent on confidence, on optimism, on people feeling strong and safe and secure enough to spend, spend, spend. Even a minor downtick produces a recession. But a catastrophe like this? A pandemic? Which has been totally mismanaged? What does that produce? Well — is anyone feeling particularly confident, strong, safe, secure, or optimistic right about now?

You see the problem, perhaps. When an economy is as reliant on consumption as America’s is, even a minor, temporary loss of confidence causes it to stumble. But a massive, systemic, long-term shattering of confidence — like being surrounded by death on a mass scale, 80,000 and counting? That produces a rapid shift in what economists call “the propensity to consume.” Keynes, the great scholar of depressions, discovered that was the key to igniting them — or staving them off. Let the propensity to consume fall too far, too fast — and bang! A depression beckons. Stave it off — and then maybe you can lift an economy out of one.

How then do you raise the “propensity to consume,” which is really just another word for “confidence in the economy”? In moments like this — of profound and sweeping shock — you stimulate. At a scale and scope equal to the shock. If the pandemic’s affecting a whole society for months or years…that’s how long and hard you need to stimulate, too.

For that reason, the American government should have done (at least) three things. Guaranteed personal and small slash medium business incomes. Frozen debt repayments — don’t worry about the banks, they get free money from the Fed every month. And created a kind of permanent boost, a basic income. Those would have gone a long, long way to restoring confidence. People might have then felt that they could continue spending. Maybe not on the same things — maybe now less designer jeans and sports cars, and more refrigerators and books. But the overall level of spending might have remained high — instead of crashing, and taking the economy with it, into a Coronavirus Depression.
The thing about depressions is that once they set in, they last for a good decade or more. It’s cheaper to prevent them than it is — like any other malady, really — to treat them. That is why we should wish to stimulate — even though, yes, it’s not cheap. It is cheaper, still, than the alternative — which is a decade of ruin, which sets an economy and its people on a permanently lower path of income, savings, assets, mobility, opportunities.

The American government, unfortunately, didn’t do any of the above. Trump first denied there was a pandemic, then minimized, then told people to…drink Lysol. That was after Congress passed a bill that supported people for the equivalent of…just one week. So of course the economy is now plunging heading into depression.

America faces an unparalleled economic catastrophe. What retail sales cratering tell us is two things. First, people stay home, in times like these, even if they can go out and shop. Second, they consume less, because their optimism is gone. As the economy adapts to a permanently lower level of spending, a wave of businesses will have to shutters its doors, meaning today’s job losses become permanent — and that is how a whole economy grows poorer.

A new pool of people will then have to compete for what jobs there are on offer. That will erode the bargaining power of workers, so incomes will fall further. And what jobs are on offer are dead-end, go-nowhere jobs mostly, anyways: “low wage service jobs,” which is the modern American pundit’s way of saying: “you’re a servant all over again, just like your grandparents maybe were.” Poof! There go whole centuries of progress. No, I’m not kidding. An economy of people driving Ubers and delivering Instacarts and selling pallets on Amazon isn’t one of people reaching their potential. It’s not one of great discoveries and breakthroughs and creativity and imagination and freedom. It’s just one of soul-crushing menial labour.

That is what it means for an economy to grow poorer. Human potential goes up in smoke — and history rewinds. Instead of that chance to become that great artist, novellist, scientist, entrepreneur — you wind up a glorified servant. You could have been something — now you drive an Uber by day and sell stuff on Amazon by night, just to put food on the table. As a result, society itself grows impoverished in the truest way — of all the things you might have created. Maybe you would have discovered that vaccine, or written that chronicle of the pandemic, or made that documentary, or employed a few hundred people. Now? You’re just another servant, in an economy of them. Which is what most economies through history have always been, sadly — and that is why progress means the freedom not to live in the servitude that comes of poverty.
Depressions do more harm than we fully know. Americans haven’t suffered one in recent history — but they’re about to. And they’re about to learn, the hard way: depressions are things for which we have no good words. The opposite of seeds: things which undo harvests and unmake gardens. They are like viruses of the human spirit. They take us backward in time, as they plunge us downwards into the abyss. Head long enough that way, and you find yourself in a dark age. But that, perhaps, is just where foolish, brutal, indecent men like Donald J Trump have always been living — and want the rest of us to, too.

May 2020
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Offline JRM

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Re: After the 'Rona
« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2020, 09:54:34 AM »
Most Americans simply want to bring back what was before the 'rona came to town.  But a lot of us think the pre-'rona economy was a nightmare of overproduction and overconsumption which was destroying the biosphere while not really meeting the needs of most ordinary people.

Any deep and long lasting 'downturn' in the economy is regarded as a depression. And we've always thought of depressions as a bad thing. But maybe we can restructure our economic life so we meet more of our legitimate needs while the economy actually shrinks significantly over time -- in what would measure as a depression?

Unfortunately, most of us equate economic well-being with the so-called "standard of living," which is mostly measured in terms of how much money folks have. But those who advocate for measuring quality of life instead will point out that one can have a relatively high standard of living and a relatively poor quality of life.

The destruction of the environment and ecosystems which accompany cultures and nations with a high standard of living is one of the greatest causes of a reduced quality of life.  Progress and success don't really amount to having a lot of money and stuff / property.
My "avatar" graphic is Japanese calligraphy (shodō) forming the word shoshin, meaning "beginner's mind". -- -- It is with shoshin that I am now and always "meeting my breath" for the first time. Try it!