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Stray Thoughts: COVID Predictions

So one of the things I've been doing to keep myself sane during the ongoing pandemic is journaling. I'm putting all of my unfiltered thoughts into a... thing... that I can save off as a single manuscript. Most of it is entirely too personal to ever share, but a few segments have been fun, including a series of predictions I'm making. So I thought I'd reproduce them here. These were written over the course of several days and would make for a long post. So I'm splitting it into two. Today will be general domestic life stuff. Tomorrow, politics and international affairs.

There are varying degrees of "hot take" in terms of predicting the future, but they're all based on a couple of assumptions: the pandemic will continued to be mishandled by higher-ups in the US government, and this will result in a protracted crisis with a lot of deaths, particularly among the elderly and groups who flatly refuse to isolate because of religious or anti-government motivations.

I could be wrong about that. I hope I'm wrong. But I don't think I am. So here's what I anticipate might be the fallout.

Life Never Completely Goes Back To “Normal”

We will have spent too much time in a state of quasi-lockdown, and the effects of that are going to linger. People will just get used to the idea that people who can do so will mostly work or educate from home, especially at a collegiate level. I think the stigma against large gatherings is going to remain. Smaller gatherings will still happens, but big annual events are going to decline.

Conferences Are Pretty Much Done

We already associate cons with disease. “Con crud” or “Pax pox” or “Nerd flu” are all terms that circulate because conventions are basically giant biohazards. This one hurts, though. There were two conferences this year that I was looking forward to a lot. One of them is that board game conference that is basically my yearly vacation, and another is a local sci-fi con where I was actually going to be able to get on panels this year. I can’t see either of them happening in 2020, though. And I think 2021 is looking iffy. And I think, after that, people are going to be used to the idea of not going to big conferences. That void will have been filled in somehow in the interim.

Grade Schools Change A Lot

I have no idea how, but schools are already kind of little germ farms. I just don’t see how the current model of putting a thousand kids into a building is going to be considered sustainable in the long run. I could see school systems breaking into smaller sub-systems. Maybe it’s a mix of e-learning and in-person instruction. Maybe there’s a move to something like the Hogwarts House model from Harry Potter where students receive instruction together but mostly live and socialize in smaller units. I have no idea. I mean, I have lots of ideas, but I don’t know how viable any of them are. Smarter people than me are working on this, though, I promise you that.

Dating Changes Too

The fact that people started immediately joking about social distancing pickup lines on the internet proves that people are already thinking a lot about this. I mean, people are still going to date, hook up, etc. The urge to fornicate is powerful. But there are going to be some barriers put into place. E.g., you “meet” someone online, but you can’t just meet in person immediately the way people do now. Some getting-to-know-you has to happen before you can cross a barrier into a physical relationship with smooching and stuff. Moving in together won’t be something that kinda happens on accident while you’re in college.

A Push To Automate Essential Services

This will break down into basically three categories. There will be things that are already automated that will be expanded. Think about the self-checkout at grocery stores and big-box retailers. Instead of a couple of self-checkout lanes and mostly lanes with checkers, you’ll see a shift towards almost exclusively self-checkout. Sonic drive-ins use a self-checkout mechanism so servers don’t have to also run money. You order remotely, pay remotely, and then the food arrives. More and more places could use this. Not just fast-food and drive-throughs, but sit down restaurants. And not just ordering and paying? Food delivery can be automated. There’s a burger place in Kansas City where the gimmick is that your food comes to you via a train. What if more places did that?

Then there will be things that aren’t automated yet, but we’ve already seen pushes in that direction. There’s been a ton of money put into research for driverless cars, for example. So rideshares become automated. Supply chain steps like over-the-road shipping become fully or partially automated. Amazon has played with the idea of delivery drones. We’ll see that soon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other deliverers started implementing the same. UPS? FedEx? The US Postal Service?

Finally, there are things that we deem essential that we haven’t really considered automating either fully or partially. I already mentioned USPS. What about stocking shelves? Maintaining the power grid? Medicine? Obviously, you can’t automate away doctors and nurses, but you can automate a lot of the busy work they do. If automation can increase a doctor's patient load by 40% without increasing their hours, you can bet it's going to happen.

This is not a particularly bold prediction. We’re headed that way already, but I think the realization that in a pandemic humans become the weak link is going to spur researchers to double-down on a lot of their current efforts.

Alright, that's the obvious stuff. Now for the fun and crazy shizz.

Animation Blows Up In American Film/Television

I think this is going to be a trend. People in the entertainment industry are going to be looking for content that doesn't jeopardize actors, and aren't so many of these movies mostly CG anyway? They are going to greenlight animated projects, especially if there’s a style that can be made quickly and cheaply, a la the old Hanna-Barbara cartoons or Japanese anime that did a lot with mechs because its easier with things that move stiffly and don’t have fully articulated faces. There's already a lot of animation now, but it's still skewed towards children's entertainment, and I could see animated adult entertainment (not adult adult, but you know, for grown-ups) overtaking live-action.

Sports Become Niche

It’s already declining, but I could see it moving towards a more interactive e-sports type of model next year and then keeping that moving forward. I'm not saying it will disappear entirely. Vinyl is still around, so surely baseball can be too. But I foresee smaller venues where attendance is highly constrained and fans are highly walled-off from the players. I could see something similar happening with concerts. Smaller shows and more pay-per-view.

Churches Basically Become Online Dating Services

Flaming. Hot. Take. I know.

Okay, this is going to take some explanation. Right now, church attendance is broadly declining because young people just aren’t that into it. Churches are about to hit a huge demand shock. These are places where people gather, and my starting assumption is that gatherings are going to be falling out of favor in general. On top of this, religious people tend to be in the same demographics that I'm assuming are going to be some of the hardest hit in terms of fatalities, so a lot of churches are going to see an unexpectedly large portion of their members die. That is going to have a follow-on effect where people don’t want to attend a church where a bunch of people they knew just died. And maybe they’re starting to question their devotion in the wake of such a personal tragedy.

So how do churches pivot?

If you leave aside faith entirely, churches serve two important societal functions. First, they build communities quickly and efficiently. A church is an ethically safe space for you and your family to socialize and connect with other people. Second, they marry off single men. Mothers get to become grandmothers, the church gets more members, everybody’s happy.

So what do you do if those are your primary functions, but physical gatherings are becoming anathema? For starters, you move online, but that's not enough. Because, yes, you can stream a church service and that’s fine, but that’s not really why people attend. You still do the church service thing, but at the same time, you focus heavily on building a social community online, a “faithbook” if you will, and then you leverage that to connect families with each other so their kids can have play dates and when they get older they can meet potential partners with similar backgrounds and values. Maybe the church even provides a venue where young couples can meet, talk, get to know each other, but in a controlled environment that their parents will approve of.

Stay safe out there,


Kathy Schrenk said…
I think a lot of these are solid predictions.

Groceries and shopping: let's just make it all via shoppers. Pay them $15 an hour or whatever is a living freaking wage where they live and give them a self-driving electric car for deliveries.

One thing that I've wondered about is fashion and makeup. We're not going to need that many outfits. Will women wear makeup on Zoom meetings? Sure. Will I go back to the hair salon or just keep having my spouse buzz my hair? Will I go to the salon to get my nails done? Ew, probably not.

Church: I don't know what other congregations are doing, but I've actually felt more connected to my fellow Ethical Society members then ever before. I have three kids; I don't have time to drive to Ethical Society two or three times a week even for things I'm interested like book clubs and talks outside of the regular Sunday morning services we all go to as a family. But I can get on a Zoom meeting whenever. I was one of the volunteers who worked on calling everyone in the membership directory in the first week after the Society building closed, to make sure everyone was going ok and see if they needed anything, and I got to have lovely conversations with people I wouldn't normally interact with.
Jess S said…
Ready Player One?