The New Normal



In the Netherlands, a week has now passed since Corona measures were taken by the government. Citizens are encouraged to stay inside as much as possible, work from home, and home school their children. Each generation has its own challenges in the face of Corona. Teenagers and twenty-somethings are probably bored out of their minds and sharing snapshots of their stylized ennui on Instagram. Elderly people must be either scared and/or lonely. Parents with busy working lives (I count myself one of them) are now continuously and even more acutely having to switch between job 1 (family), job 2 (actual job), and sleep (if possible). Any proximity to me-time in the form of e.g. listening to music during a daily commute or a social chat with colleagues has completely vanished the day schools and day-cares were closed. Relaxation now presents itself in minutes of laughing to tears over Youtube videos being forwarded in Whatsapp groups, expressing related emotions.

Joking aside. How did we get here? But really? Both history at large (the Spanish flu) and more recent experiences (SARS, Ebola, MERS) should have taught us that a far reaching global pandemic was always there to come. Bill Gates gave a great Ted talk in 2015 warning us: the world has not invested in a system stopping an epidemic. Did I ever give it one thought? No. And now here we are.

I’m not complaining though. It is a rather humbling experience, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. We are lucky enough not to have been put on total lockdown – yet. I can still move around more or less freely, while other European citizens must stay in their homes with the walls closing in. I can still buy food, and not only the most necessary kind: almost everything is available online. I get to spend more time with my children and practice my patience to the level of Mahatma Gandhi. I have more time to contemplate, instead of rushing from one (social or business) obligation to the next, sometimes frying my brain in the process. I can still work, thanks to the technological possibilities of these times. If I want, I can now watch a classical concert online and chat with all my family members at once. It is utterly fantastic that this is all possible. The adaptability and flexibility of humankind never ceases to amaze me.

Some argue that this new way of living and working may bring lasting beneficial effects. Here is an article that I particularly liked by Andrew Winston. We are all increasingly forced to interact virtually because of social distancing, and that may not be so bad. Winston argues that climate change and COVID19 – both black swans - point to more permanent changes we have to make, in our lives and in doing business, and that government and businesses should take corresponding action. Simon Kuper has also written a great piece in the FT: on how COVID19 is already pushing us into greener (work) habits and (of course) he has already been doing that for years. Fred Wilson of USV was already showing off his Zoom room before Corona spread outside of Asia. So great, technology leads to more virtual time spent on business, where possible. More meetings via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, etc. Less (business) travel. Equals greener planet. Right?

Maybe. But the sharp inclination of use of online services and increase of our digital footprint will also demand our policy makers to be vigilant and take action. Heavily burdened networks and data usage may demand a review of our digital infrastructure. Prevention of cyber crime should move higher up the agenda and dedicated crime units should join forces and receive more (European) budget. The same goes for privacy regulations: the basis is there, but to be effective they should be (royally) enforced. Government has better things to do at the moment, sure. But I would encourage (European) policy makers to find time to map out a plan – in between their Zoom meetings, teaching their kids math and taking an online yoga session, of course.