What Is the New Normal Post-COVID-19?
Posted on March 23, 2022
Remember the magic of a snow day? In the morning you woke to snow flying and piling high, right up to that border between fun and dangerous. And then Mom confirmed what you yearned for like a present on Christmas morning: no school today.
If she was lucky she got to stay home with you indulging in hot chocolate, lounging around in pajamas, and maybe eventually bundling up and heading outside to build a snowman. It was a rare and precious gift that disrupted the monotony and let you forget about schoolwork.
A nice dream. Gone the way of the dodo and music videos on MTV.
Nowadays, if a blizzard hits, kids are still on the hook. Video calls killed the snow day. Worse: in theory, perfect attendance is now possible for any student. Boo to you, Internet.
And sick days for grown-ups seem to be going the way of the Western. If the job can be done remotely, being under the weather doesn’t mean you’re out of the loop. Seems like a natural progression for the work force in the era of video conferencing. But we only capitalized on it when COVID-19 shut us in.
With cases winding down, where does that shift leave us? Will unplugging on sick days become the exception to the rule? Are snow days really lost forever? The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a host of changes on how we live and work.
And it leaves one question lingering: Can we ever go back?
A Generational Shift
On December 12, 2019, a cluster of patients in Wuhan, Hubei Providence, China began to experience a shortness of breath and fever. The rest is history – but one still in the making .
In an interview with Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Harvard Gazette reports the effects of the pandemic are both acute and long-lasting. According to Koenen, the psychological burden is like that experienced by those affected by economic depression or war.
Unlike events that have defined previous generations like the Kennedy assassination or 9/11, the pandemic packs a punch that affects near all corners of life from school, graduation, dating, and work, to shopping, traveling, medical procedures, funerals and so on.
For young adults searching for their place in the world, it’s an especially difficult time.
Making it Personal
While the pandemic now represents a permanent layer in the coming-of-age generation’s formative years, it’s unclear how negative its impact may be. But we can safely say it demarcates a “before” and “after” in their journey.
That cohort will be hard-pressed to remember a time before widespread mask wearing — a time when people shook hands, hugged, or packed into a full elevator without wondering if that was such a good idea. The deprivation of human contact, which has led to anxiety and depression, could become a defining feature of this younger generation. And the substitute for human contact — virtual meetings — may now be the weaker but routine alternative to making plans with other live, in-person humans.
Younger Americans already have higher levels of anxiety and depression than their elders. The pandemic may already be making that worse. For example, the opportunity to try something new now causes in many a reflexive aversion instead of excitement. Forced isolation, underpinned by video calls and texting, may set in as the default setting for many.
For generations used to the workforce, this shift has had dramatic affects. Whereas the younger generation was raised on technology, baby boomers, and certain groups of millennials, have been had to adapt to videoconferencing and other remote technologies to earn their keep.
While working remote won’t be in the long game for certain professions, it certainly highlighted a shift in how the workforce, well, works. It’s been a case-study in the ease with which modern tech has facilitated the shift from one location to the next.
Remote work has also showcased benefits – like saving money on an office space, to big businesses. It has forced people who aren’t familiar with software like Zoom or Microsoft Teams to step out of their comfort zone and learn something new.
With factories around the world either shutting down or battling staff shortages, industry has proven unable – especially at the early stages of the pandemic — to meet demand on an entire constellation of goods. No one quite knows when supply will finally meet demand. And that’s a consequence of the pandemic that may very well outlive the outbreak itself: the disruption in supplies and the inflation that’s followed on will define this generation’s formative years in ways not seen since the 1970’s.
Can We Ever Go Back?
No, we cannot.
The ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic have left behind too much damage. Yet we’ve also unveiled much information about where we are as a society in terms of both medicine and technology.
American are now making the transition to the new work landscape. That same landscape, that’s forcing generations who didn’t grow up with tech to take bold leaps and try something new. It’s also forced us to look beyond our routine manufacturing systems and adapt.
We may see the death of snow days, but we’ve also seen the birth of greater emphasis on remote days. It’s easy to focus on what we’ve lost, yet, if we look at what we’ve gained, consider this question: why go back?