Around the County

My post-pandemic crystal ball

Posted 4/21/20

COVID-19. “This is going to be a game changer, like 9-11,” says my cousin’s son, the doctor. And he should know having worked for years at a senior level in federal disaster relief …

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Around the County

My post-pandemic crystal ball

Posted

COVID-19. “This is going to be a game changer, like 9-11,” says my cousin’s son, the doctor. And he should know having worked for years at a senior level in federal disaster relief programs, including at the National Security Council.

Game changer?

My crystal ball is as cloudy as the sky on this snowy Easter Sunday. Nevertheless, I’ve been watching a few trends.

One is civil liberties.

The Chinese model continues to be, as of this writing, the gold standard on how to deal with the virus to mitigate its impact now and prevent future epidemics. That model rests on testing and tracking and relies on absolute government control over the population.

Even as I write, federal and state workers have spread across the country with the ultimate goal of tracking every contact of every person who’s tested positive for the virus, and Google is working on an app for its use that will make this easy and automatic.

Too bad for you if you expect to keep your private life ... private. And the data this app and these government-employed people collect and that more people crunch into data and feed into massive computers? It should help control the virus, yes. But consider all the other applications …

Another is our societal divide.

The generally homogenous culture we enjoy here in Wyoming, even though we have our hugely wealthy and our scandalously poor, is mostly absent from the rest of the country.

Elsewhere, the growing gap is revealed in the identities of the dead. Overwhelmingly COVID victims are poor and colored. For the most part, they are folks who live in crowded conditions, work the menial “essential” jobs like garbage collection and mopping floors, and do so without protective gear.

Unlike most of us here, they have no health insurance, can’t get close to a medical facility, and are the most vulnerable. When they contract the virus, therefore, they are more likely to die.

“We don’t know yet how many,” New York’s mayor says of those who the virus kills in their own beds — a theme echoed in Chicago and other major cities and one that brings tears to my eyes.

Because in this — the richest country on earth which spends more money per capita on health care than any other country on earth — the system is so broken that we can’t save our own people from dying for lack of care.

Which brings us to another enlarging gap: money.

Our government is minting money like King Midas created gold. At least Midas was an equal opportunity gold-maker. Consider our government’s legislated handouts — billions to the really big corporations that are large enough, anyway, to buy and sell entire countries; modest grant and loan packages for small businesses to keep the economy from totally collapsing; and about enough to pay one month’s rent for the rest of us.

More glass half-empty trends.

We’re all being a bit disconcerted by another revelation: what the crisis is showing us about globalization. That genie is definitely out of the bottle for good or for ill.

Artificial Intelligence development, computerization and workforce reduction will all be sped up, of course. Big companies, already focused on replacing an expensive human workforce with much cheaper AI-driven substitutes, will find this situation made to order. The quarantines, lay-offs, furloughs, LWOP, etc. are reducing their staffs for them. And don’t just think of giants like Amazon or box stores like Wal-Mart. Think restaurants, resorts, banks and gift shops, plus the professionals who now consider themselves secure from the AI incursion.

How many docents and curators will museums, for example, need even as volunteers? Can AI do a better job of designing your house than an architect? When remodeling, will you really need to rely on planners or human labor? Or will you feed your preferences into a machine, instruct it to: draw up plans, contact the painters/plumbers/electricians (robots all), order new furniture from automated warehouses, and give you a time frame that actually works.

All of this is in the wind which is blowing across us now, thanks to COVID-19.

All of the above, too, falls for me in the “glass half empty” territory.

For some, the glass is half full.

Where there’s change, there is opportunity — like for computer programmers, software designers, and a host of supply businesses. Maybe the best business field of all will be innovation. My crystal ball really brightens when it shows innovators driving the economy of the future.

One really interesting profession to watch will be teaching. You’d think that with so many existing teaching apps and online courses added to the COVID-inspired drive to accelerate computer-based teaching, that teachers might be an endangered species.

And, you might be right. But think twice.

If we do end up with a gig economy, in which workers must retool every few years, teachers will be driving the learning curves. And, consider: Who will write all that content needed for computerized teaching programs? Who will guide students through the huge and ever-expanding maze of available knowledge? Who will get kids out of the house and into hands-on situations if the parents are both working?

Right now, though, all of the above is just moving shadows in our crystal balls.

Stay safe, all.

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