Coronavirus: Permanent Change? 34 Big Thinkers Explore the Possibilities


While the immediate focus of our global health crisis remains on the present, as we approach the other side, many will focus on a post-pandemic future. Painting pictures of possible futures was already critical in this time of rapid change; the pandemic elevates the urgency. I have been sharing the perspectives of many global thinkers in the interest of providing foresight to those who will need it when the focus shifts. A virtual session focused on a post-pandemic society is being planned, and I will likely participate. In discussing that possibility, I was presented with this Article.

Politico Magazine surveyed 34 macro thinkers this week to explore possible post-pandemic futures. As the article states, crisis moments also present opportunity: more sophisticated and flexible use of technology, less polarization, a revived appreciation for the outdoors and life’s other simple pleasures. Although no one can predict exactly how things will change, we can predict that things will change. Read the article for a deep dive from each of the 34 big thinkers.

Key themes include: community, technology, Health, Science, Government, Elections, Global Economy, and Lifestyle. I’ve provided key sound bites from each individual below.


THE PERSONAL BECOMES DANGEROUS

Deborah Tannen – professor of linguistics at Georgetown: The paradox of online communication will be ratcheted up: It creates more distance, yes, but also more connection, as we communicate more often with people who are physically farther and farther away -and who feel safer to us because of that distance.

A NEW KIND OF PATRIOTISM

Mark Lawrence Schrad – associate professor of political science: Perhaps we will finally start to understand patriotism more as cultivating the health and life of your community, rather than blowing up someone else’s community. Maybe the de-militarization of American patriotism and love of community will be one of the benefits to come out of this whole awful mess.

A DECLINE IN POLARIZATION

Peter T. Coleman – professor of psychology at Columbia University: Societal shocks can break different ways, making things better or worse. But given our current levels of tension, this scenario suggests that now is the time to begin to promote more constructive patterns in our cultural and political discourse. The time for change is clearly ripening.

A RETURN TO FAITH IN SERIOUS EXPERTS

Tom Nichols – professor at the U.S. Naval War College: The COVID-19 has already forced people back to accepting that expertise matters. It was easy to sneer at experts until a pandemic arrived, and then people wanted to hear from medical professionals like Anthony Fauci.

LESS INDIVIDUALISM

Eric Klinenberg – professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU: The coronavirus pandemic is going to cause immense pain and suffering. But it will force us to reconsider who we are and what we value, and, in the long run, it could help us rediscover the better version of ourselves.

RELIGIOUS WORSHIP WILL LOOK DIFFERENT

Amy Sullivan – director of strategy for Vote Common Good: All faiths have dealt with the challenge of keeping faith alive under the adverse conditions of war or diaspora or persecution—but never all faiths at the same time. Religion in the time of quarantine will challenge conceptions of what it means to minister and to fellowship.

NEW FORMS OF REFORM

Jonathan Rauch – contributing writer at the Atlantic and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution: People are finding new ways to connect and support each other in adversity; they are sure to demand major changes in the health-care system and maybe also the government; and they’ll become newly conscious of interdependency and community.

REGULATORY BARRIERS TO ONLINE TOOLS WILL FALL

Katherine Mangu-Ward – editor-in-chief of Reason magazine: The resistance—led by teachers’ unions and the politicians beholden to them—to allowing partial homeschooling or online learning for K-12 kids has been swept away by necessity. It will be near-impossible to put that genie back in the bottle in the fall, with many families finding that they prefer full or partial homeschooling or online homework.

A HEALTHIER DIGITAL LIFESTYLE

Sherry Turkle – professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT: What can I authentically offer? I have a life, a history. What do people need? If, moving forward, we apply our most human instincts to our devices, that will have been a powerful COVID-19 legacy. Not only alone together, but together alone.

A BOON TO VIRTUAL REALITY

Elizabeth Bradley – president of Vassar College and a scholar of global health: Imagine putting on glasses, and suddenly you are in a classroom or another communal setting, or even a positive psychology intervention.

THE RISE OF TELEMEDICINE

Ezekiel J. Emanuel – chair of the department of medical ethics and health policy at the UPenn: Out of necessity, remote office visits could skyrocket in popularity as traditional-care settings are overwhelmed by the pandemic.

AN OPENING FOR STRONGER FAMILY CARE

Ai-Jen Poo – director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Caring Across Generations: Coronavirus has put a particular national spotlight on unmet needs of the growing older population in our country, and the tens of millions of overstretched family and professional caregivers they rely on.

GOVERNMENT BECOMES BIG PHARMA

Steph Sterling – vice president of advocacy and policy at the Roosevelt Institute: The reality of fragile supply chains for active pharmaceutical ingredients coupled with public outrage over patent abuses that limit the availability of new treatments has led to an emerging, bipartisan consensus that the public sector must take far more active and direct responsibility for the development and manufacture of medicines

SCIENCE REIGNS AGAIN

Sonja Trauss – executive director of YIMBY Law: Americans are being reacquainted with scientific concepts like germ theory and exponential growth. Unlike with tobacco use or climate change, science doubters will be able to see the impacts of the coronavirus immediately

CONGRESS CAN FINALLY GO VIRTUAL

Ethan Zuckerman – associate professor of the practice in media arts and sciences at MIT, director of the Center for Civic Media: Coronavirus is going to force many institutions to go virtual. One that would greatly benefit from the change is the U.S. Congress

BIG GOVERNMENT MAKES A COMEBACK

Margaret O’Mara – professor of history at University of Washington: Not only will America need a massive dose of big government to get out of this crisis—as Washington’s swift passage of a giant economic bailout package reflects—but we will need big, and wise, government more than ever in its aftermath

GOVERNMENT SERVICE REGAINS ITS CACHET

Lilliana Mason – associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park: The widely accepted idea that government is inherently bad won’t persist after coronavirus

A NEW CIVIC FEDERALISM

Archon Fung – professor of citizenship and self-government at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government: The coronavirus is this century’s most urgent challenge to humanity. Harnessing a new sense of solidarity, citizens of states and cities will rise to face the enormous challenges ahead such as climate change and transforming our era of historic inequality into one of economic inclusion

THE RULES WE’VE LIVED BY WON’T ALL APPLY

Astra Taylor – filmmaker and author of Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone: It’s clear that in a crisis, the rules don’t apply—which makes you wonder why they are rules in the first place. This is an unprecedented opportunity to not just hit the pause button and temporarily ease the pain, but to permanently change the rules so that untold millions of people aren’t so vulnerable to begin with

REVIVED TRUST IN INSTITUTIONS

Michiko Kakutani – author of the 2018 bestseller The Death of Truth and former chief book critic of the New York Times: decisions need to be made through a reasoned policy process and predicated on evidence-based science and historical and geopolitical knowledge

EXPECT A POLITICAL UPRISING

Cathy O’Neil – founder and CEO of the algorithmic auditing company ORCAA: Long-disregarded populations finally getting the message that their needs are not only chronically unattended, but also chronically dismissed as politically required, will likely have drastic, pitchfork consequences

ELECTRONIC VOTING GOES MAINSTREAM

Joe Brotherton – chairman of Democracy Live, a startup that provides electronic ballots: Over the long term, as election officials grapple with how to allow for safe voting in the midst of a pandemic, the adoption of more advanced technology—including secure, transparent, cost-effective voting from our mobile devices—is more likely

ELECTION DAY WILL BECOME ELECTION MONTH

Lee Drutman – senior fellow at New America: change will come through expanded early voting and no-excuse mail-in balloting, effectively turning Election Day into Election Month (or maybe months, depending on the closeness of the election and the leniency for late-arriving ballots postmarked on Election Day)

VOTING BY MAIL WILL BECOME THE NORM

Kevin R. Kosar – vice president of research partnerships at the R Street Institute: Fortunately, there is a time-tested means for the country to escape the choice between protecting public health and allowing voters to exercise their right to vote: voting by mail. Military members overseas have voted by mail for decades

Dale Ho – director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union: Fortunately, there is a time-tested means for the country to escape the choice between protecting public health and allowing voters to exercise their right to vote: voting by mail.

MORE RESTRAINTS ON MASS CONSUMPTION

Sonia Shah – author of Pandemic: Tracking Contagions From Cholera to Ebola: Universal basic income and mandatory paid sick leave will move from the margins to the center of policy debates. The end of mass quarantine will unleash pent-up demand for intimacy and a mini baby-boom

STRONGER DOMESTIC SUPPLY CHAINS

Todd N. Tucker – director of Governance Studies at the Roosevelt Institute: In the years ahead, however, expect to see more support from Democrats, Republicans, academics and diplomats for the notion that government has a much bigger role to play in creating adequate redundancy in supply chains—resilient even to trade shocks from allies. This will be a substantial reorientation from even the very recent past

Dambisa Moyo – economist and author: switching to a more robust domestic supply chain would reduce dependence on an increasingly fractured global supply system. But while this would better ensure that people get the goods they need, this shift would likely also increase costs to corporations and consumers

THE INEQUALITY GAP WILL WIDEN

Theda Skocpol – professor of government and sociology at Harvard: Discussions of inequality in America often focus on the growing gap between the bottom 99 percent and the top 1 percent. But the other gap that has grown is between the top fifth and all the rest—and that gap will be exacerbated by this crisis

A HUNGER FOR DIVERSION

Mary Frances Berry – professor of American social thought, history and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania: After the disastrous 1918-19 Spanish flu and the end of World War I, many Americans sought carefree entertainment, which the introduction of cars and the radio facilitated; post-pandemic, human beings will respond with the same sense of relief and a search for community, relief from stress and pleasure

LESS COMMUNAL DINING—BUT MAYBE MORE COOKING

Paul Freedman – history professor at Yale: with restaurants mostly closed and as isolation increases, many people will learn or relearn how to cook over the next weeks

A REVIVAL OF PARKS

Alexandra Lange – the architecture critic at Curbed: What we have right now is parks. After this is all over, I would love to see more public investment in open, accessible, all-weather places to gather, even after we no longer need to stay six feet apart

A CHANGE IN OUR UNDERSTANDING OF CHANGE

Matthew Continetti – resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute: Our collective notions of the possible have changed already. If the danger the coronavirus poses both to individual health and to public health capacity persists, we will be forced to revise our very conception of “change.” The paradigm will shift

THE TYRANNY OF HABIT NO MORE

Virginia Heffernan – author of Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art: This current plague time might see a recharged commitment to a closer-to-the-bone worldview that recognizes we have a short time on earth, the Doomsday Clock is a minute from midnight, and living peacefully and meaningfully together is going to take much more than bed-making and canny investments. The Power of No Habits

As I have in each post dedicated to COVID-19, I’m providing links to my previous posts on the topic for your reference.

FEATUREDA Post Pandemic Society

Mid-Pandemic Impact on Supply Chains
Post COVID-19 Economic Recovery Scenarios 
Is The Canary Dead?
How Will The Corona Virus Impact Globalization?
The Corona Virus Serves As A Catalyst For Change
COVID-19 Monday Morning News
Anatomy Of An Outbreak
Discussing A Post-Pandemic Society on Salem Radio Network
The COVID-19 Economic Impact On China and a Glimpse Of The Future

38 thoughts on “Coronavirus: Permanent Change? 34 Big Thinkers Explore the Possibilities

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