Thursday, May 14, 2020

"After the Disruption": What Tech People Think of the COVID-19 Lockdown and Aftermath

After the Disruption – Preliminary Report

Highlights from yesterday’s meeting. A full annotated report with links and comments will appear next week The actual conversation in its entirety can be viewed here (Password: 2T*T@6x1)  

In a wide-ranging discussion, a group of tech execs, entrepreneurs and investors led by startup advisor, Alan Brody, discussed the COVID-19 lockdown from the point of view of the tech sector.
The picture emerging is that the world will be different, especially in cities like New York. Many people will take a break from big cities and big employers are likely to stick with telecommuting, dropping leases and treating headquarters as a gathering place rather than a daily location. Talent and population will experience a dispersal to secondary and remote regions. However, there will always be a desire for social gathering and so, over time young people will return to the big cities. Families may not. In the intermediate period, as business opens up there may well be a staggering of work hours, enabling lower density of public transportation and leisure. Immigrant workers – especially in tech will be encouraged to return to home, resulting in more outsourcing and new kinds of talent dispersal. Many government, business and societal structures will be profoundly challenged. 

• Everything that can or has gone digital will go even more digital and contactless.

• Robots will appear everywhere and the public will welcome them.

• AI will become more nuanced (remember fuzzy logic?) and embedded wherever possible.

• Lack of faith in government is at an all-time high, with self-reliance and personal high tech solutions preferred.

• Sweden vs the rest of the world. Still an ongoing debate…..

• Contact tracing will be passively resisted as no one seems willing to trust government with their data.

• Retail as we know it is probably dead. Online is the new norm. Only highly automated, highly convenient or highly bespoke retail is likely to return with any strength.

• Restaurants will be culled but diners may accept staggered seatings. Freelance chefs will emerge everywhere……

• We have become a quasi-socialist country with Universal Guaranteed Income a new reality.

• Potent desire to bring jobs home and reduce reliance on China but deep sense of impotence at our overwhelming reliance on them.

• Big corporations and governments might even require China to second-source production in other countries as a condition of doing business.

• Many calls for new kinds of Marshall Plans will emerge.

• College students are feeling deeply cheated abut the prospects of a virtual college experience. This will cause a rethinking of the higher education system, a breakdown of non-brand colleges

• 4 year colleges may never return intact. Layers of nonessential administrators are likely to be retired.

• The possibility of new kinds of national service - including one for older people whose health vulnerability makes them doubly unemployable.

• Sales of mood altering prescription meds exploding. (Up 35% as of March 31st)

• Mental health awareness and empathy increasing. This may well be part of a new kind of WPA.

• The expectation of a true vaccine and antidote is low. The expectation of new viral and environmental threats are high.

• Most expect the public to manage the virus anyway and return to life regardless - even bucking nervous governments who lockdown for too long. Democrats tend to be cautious and lockdown-seeking, Republicans more risk-tolerant.

• Generally, entrepreneurial solutions are expected to emerge to manage social distancing in business etc.

• Concerns with healthfulness and ways to measure this will proliferate. Expect a mad rush of testing.

• Blockchain technology may emerge as the key management technology.

• Healthfulness will be the new cool. The new status hierarchy will be based on immune vitality and the culture will look for formal and informal ways to display this. This may be the key to social gateways.

• Religions were mostly absent and in some cases were the unintended promoters of the contagion. As the plague once fueled the church Reformation and this virus may similarly challenge formal religions. Spirituality, on the other hand, appears enhanced.

• Economic recovery – will there be enough money to go around? Governments might turn to creating cryptocurrency type bonds while wealthy individual may turn to cryptocurrencies to protect wealth. (FDR’s Executive Order 6102 and Gold Hoarding Act cited.)

• Distance voting is now a must.

• New referendum technologies that force officials to be constantly accountable to the public may be demanded. (In this pandemic the public knew as much as or more than the government, sometimes more proactive and expected them to plan only to find they didn’t.)

• The standard Democrat vs Republican debate may appear irrelevant. Expect new voices to emerge.

Bottom Line. Present leadership is grossly inadequate, planning non-existent - even though clear warnings have been public for decades – including numerous hit movies that were largely anticipatory. There is a profound lack of vision and a high willingness for the public to accept conspiracy theories and unconventional explanations. While we have had pandemics the world has never shut down at once. Have we lost our nerve, our leadership? What is the lasting footprint?

Was this lockdown the overreaction of the underprepared?

Please share your thoughts and comments.

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