How the coronavirus pandemic might change us: Theories about sports, patience, working and more
Like many others, I’ve wondered in recent days how the coronavirus pandemic could change us in the long term. Not just how it might effect sports leagues or the economy or government structure, but also what it might mean for the workforce, schools and how we behave and think as people.
Two things before I go on:
1) I’m not an expert on human behavior. These are just feelings based on my convictions, conversations and observations. But I think you might relate.
2) We don’t know how long this will last, so it’s possible it’ll be over before it produces any lasting social effects. But I’m operating under the assumption that our current “normal” will last for at least a few more months, which, given the scope and intensity of the changes we’ve already endured, sure seems long enough to make us rethink a few things.
Now, on to my theories on how the COVID-19 era could change us. I’ve framed them as “maybes.”
Maybe we’ll be more patient
With no firm date for when our lives will return to normal, with all our social activities and usual desires for traditional fun, we’re having to re-learn patience. We want sports now. We want to go to the movie theater now. We want to hang out with our friends now. We want things back to normal now. We feel like we can’t take this much longer, but we have to. It could be another month, or it could be another six months. We just don’t know.
So, in the mean time, we wait and we deal with it. This time next year, assuming we’ve returned to roughly where we were a couple of months ago, I’m guessing relatively short waits won’t bother us much, if at all. An hour-long wait at a restaurant? No problem. The thing you ordered won’t get here for three weeks? Fine. This MLB game is three hours old and only in the fifth inning? Child’s play. In other words, maybe we won’t need everything RIGHT NOW.
What also might happen: After months of being isolated, maybe we’ll become a little less patient and want everything even more immediately than before.
Maybe we’ll be more content and learn to save money
If you’re older than, say, 40, you probably have or had at least one grandparent who lived through the Great Depression and learned to be very practical with money and had no real desire to live with any hint of luxury. That could be us in 20-30 years. Perhaps our months of isolation will force us to appreciate what we have, rather than focus on what we don’t. Perhaps we won’t need as much to keep ourselves occupied or entertained.
After months of furloughs or being laid off, maybe we’ll develop a new relationship with money — as in, we’ll want to hang on it. Maybe we won’t want to spend $150 on game tickets or $100 on a replica jersey. Maybe we’ll save as much as possible, gradually losing the desire to always have the newest and best everything.
What also might happen: The more selfish frustrations of the Coronavirus Era will drive us to buy more stuff. Like, all kinds of stuff. We’ll tell ourselves we need the retail therapy and we deserve to be happy after all we’ve gone through. So we’ll spend like crazy as soon as we’re able.
Maybe we’ll be more thankful, and we’ll treasure the little things
Some have said that we should establish a second federal day of thanksgiving when all this is over. I don’t see that happening, but I do think we’ll become more thankful in general. We’ll be more thankful for our jobs, for our homes, for our health, for our friends, for everything we have. We’ll be thankful that we don’t have to wear a mask to run errands. We’ll be thankful for the little things: dropping by to visit a friend or family member, watching live sports on TV, just the ability to go outside without worry.
What also might happen: We’ll be thankful — for a few days. Then we’ll resume our normal state of not being thankful and complaining about everything.
Maybe we’ll stop unnecessary physical contact
Dr. Anthony Fauci said he thinks we might do away with handshakes forever. I can see this happening, albeit slowly. Handshakes have been around for centuries, so it’s unlikely we’ll just stop doing them. There will be many people who immediately make an effort to stop, but there will also be many people who keep doing it out of habit.
Gradually, though, I think handshakes will eventually become an old-fashioned greeting. I’d be OK with this. I know some people really like handshakes, either because they love tradition or because they think it’s manly or whatever. But I’ve always been indifferent. A “sup?” head nod is all we’ve ever needed anyway. Hey, maybe athletes will no longer dog-pile after a big win. Maybe we’ll think twice about high-fiving strangers sitting at games. Maybe butt slaps will get even more popular and replace athlete high-fives after big moments. Maybe the Bash Brothers will become retroactive trend-setters.
What also might happen: There will be an official effort to eliminate and replace the handshake with some other new greeting, but people will mock this mercilessly and handshakes will come back strong like nothing ever happened. Because it usually doesn’t take long for people to regain a false sense of security.
Maybe we’ll prefer to stay put
With sports on hold and movie theaters shuttered, at-home entertainment has become more popular than ever. But what about when this is over? Maybe streaming movie premieres will be the new rage if people decide crowded theaters are too risky. Ditto for sports broadcasts. A Seton Hall University survey this week found that 72 percent of respondents said they won’t feel safe attending sporting events until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19. Even if a vaccine is available by this time next year, maybe concern over the next big pandemic will keep many fans of the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and other sports from watching games in person — assuming we have a choice. Even if sports resume soon, fan-less games could be the norm for a while, which would make for eerie TV viewing. And while fans might prefer games in empty stadiums to no games at all, athletes don’t necessarily feel the same way.
What also might happen: Corona-what? Short memories and fan longings will combine to fill stadiums and other gathering places with lightning speed as soon as the gates re-open. Depending on how long we’re we’re asked to stay isolated, many people could be willing to risk their health for a few hours of in-person entertainment.
Maybe working remotely will become routine for most offices
Innovations sometimes happen out of unrelated circumstances, and that could be one benefit of these months of quarantine. Despite some initial challenges in the early weeks and months of this nationwide work-from-home effort, many companies that previously balked at the idea could realize that remote staffing has major benefits.
Maybe they’ll realize they don’t have to spend so much money on office space. Maybe they’ll learn that employees are happier and more productive working from home. Maybe they’ll realize their candidate pools are much stronger when applicants can live anywhere. It’s even possible that offices that aren’t currently set up for remote work will evolve and find ways to do it smoothly. New technologies could emerge that will allow almost everyone to adapt.
Of course, not every job will be possible to do remotely. But the option to telecommute will definitely become more the rule than the exception.
What also might happen: After months of working from home and dealing with all kinds of distractions, workers will miss being in the office and will jump at the chance to live in a cubicle again. Or, similarly, companies will get so fed up with the challenges and limitations of remote work that they’ll outlaw it specifically.
Maybe we’ll rethink the entire education system
Most schools around the country haven’t met officially since mid-March. Many have begun online learning to keep brains fresh and maintain progress. Traditional end-of-grade testing will be canceled in many places, and there’s a good chance that most students won’t return to “school” until next fall. So what will all this mean? Hard to say for sure, but I do think it will spark a nationwide discussion on our education system, which almost everyone agrees is broken in one way or another.
Questions to consider: Will online set-ups eliminate snow days or school being canceled for any traditional reason ever again? Do we really need to go past March anyway? Should we give students of a certain age the opportunity to complete higher grades online, and on their own schedule? Should we revamp high schools to feature a basic education for the first two years, then specialized career-oriented educations the final two years? Should all standardized testing just go away?
There are a million things to consider with these and other questions that might come up, so the discussion should be interesting.
What also might happen: The severely shortened school year will cause a major drop-off in student preparedness for the next grade, which will cause an unpleasant set of dominoes to fall. In short: More school, not less.
There has to be some change, right?
Again, my expertise in all the above areas is limited to hunches based on anecdotal evidence and, perhaps, wishful thinking. I’m sure that even the actual experts have differing ideas of what this will mean for everything in the long run. There have already been many attempts to put this thing in perspective and offer potential lessons, so there’s no shortage of reading material on the matter.
But it seems unrealistic to expect everything to literally go back to the way it was in January or February. There will almost certainly be some kind of change. That usually happens after terrible worldwide events as we look for ways to keep them from happening again. Some changes might come in the form of policy. Others might happen more
Then again, remember right after 9/11, when there were all kinds of predictions about how it would change us as a society? There were some permanent changes, for sure (airport security lines, for example), but other theories related to our supposed collective fear and reluctance and collective patriotism didn’t pan out for long at all. In many ways, it only took a year or so for most people to “move past” Sept. 11, 2001, even as harsh as that sounds.
But COVID-19 isn’t 9/11, so there are no certainties about how things will play out six months or six years from now. But change of some kind seems likely.
The only questions are how soon the changes will arrive, and how long they’ll last.
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