Looking forward …

Just as the speed of the spread of SARS-Cov-2 has surprised the general population, so too the measures introduced to halt its spread seem to have taken governments by surprise. Here in the UK as little as 2 weeks ago my organisation was discussing guidelines as to how we could safely conduct events (hand-washing, sanitiser at door, no handshakes, asking everybody who came in how they felt, …) whereas now we are at the point of shutting doors and turning everyone away.

Just 2 weeks ago there were plans for mass events such as 450 schoolchildren in a combined concert, civic events requiring bands and full day rehearsals. Building works that would take out whole rooms and working parties of 10-15 people hammering and fixing around the building. All that has stopped with a bang. What will happen in the next weeks, months, and year?

How will life look as we emerge from this?

After the SARS and MERS incidents – when I was still travelling extensively – I brought packs of gloves, disposable masks, and anti-viral drugs. These sat in a drawer until recently but when I took them out I saw that they were inadequate! Gloves have to be gauntlet type to the elbow, aprons have to have long sleeves, and masks need to be disposable, filtering, and include full visor. None of these I had thought of and as a result what I have offers little protection. But at least I thought ahead and waited until the panic had died down before ordering them. Will the world react similarly and prepare for the next pandemic, or will we go back to our short-termism and fail to prepare for the next disease?

Futurists have a terrible prediction rate. Forget sci-fi as a means of prediction – most of the ‘inventions’ are either plain wrong or extrapolate current technologies in ways they just won’t work. Take a read of older sci-fi to see just that: canons to the moon, flywheels powering cable cars across cities, flying cars. A good sci-fi book tells you more about the age in which it was written than as a reliable prediction of the future. While others have written more soberly of this, let’s join the game and take a punt where this will lead us. So here are my predictions, I’ll revisit in a year and see how many came true!

  1. Very large increase in the number of people using technology to connect and conduct work.
    • so transport links will experience lower numbers
    • … and decreased road pollution
  2. CO2 will decrease world-wide, as will nitrogen dioxide and other measures of pollution.
    • while not enough to halt or reverse global warming, it will be a short reprieve
    • the rate of adoption of electric cars will increase
  3. Hyper-local delivery.
    • Micro collection services and ‘last mile’ delivery within the hour will mean less need to physically view objects, and smaller quantities will become the norm.
  4. More distance learning.
    • … but frankly not enough. Why have physical schools when most knowledge is online?
    • I suspect this will be dependent on how long the lock-down lasts – over a year and it becomes ingrained habit, finished by September and everything flops back to normal.
  5. Bricks-and-mortar shops will largely disappear.
    • They were decreasing already, this just speeds it up.
  6. Leisure time activity will increase.
    • 4 day weeks, part-time employments, zero-hours contracts, portfolio incomes and so on
    • Some people may never in their lifetime have a classical ‘job’ as we understood it at the close of the twentieth century.
  7. Massive underemployment and new class of non-workers.
    • University trained graduates who avoid company employment.
    • This is harder to predict but I suspect that either a basic income, payment rations, or new classes of social security.
  8. The organisational structure called a ‘company’ will devolve.
    • Work sites such as Fiver, Upwork and other gig platforms will increase.
    • New organisational structures such as Colony will evolve and broaden their appeal.
    • New payment mechanisms or crypto tokens will grow.
    • Piecework and small seller platforms such as Etsy will increasingly become the main remuneration route for some.

If that last point sounds as utopian as the community rules in the movie The Beach then it probably is. But remember that the structure of the world 100 years ago was very different from the structure we have now, and the next 30 years are likely to see massive changes.

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