Coronavirus has changed everything, which gives us a rare opportunity to re-evaluate our existing way of life. Social isolation is the new normal, more people are working from home, and even a trip to the supermarket is a major social outing. When something of this magnitude affects the entire world, there is an opportunity to emerge from the storm with changed habits and different values. A prolonged global recession is almost guaranteed, and some commentators are even looking ahead to an extended "quarantine of consumption".
There is little doubt the world has changed over recent weeks, the only question is whether it will ever go back to normal. International political tensions are rising, sovereignty is back in fashion, and communities have become more self-aware of themselves and their place in broader society. With less travelling, disrupted supply chains, and an increased emphasis on self-reliance, we could see profound changes in how the world functions.
Industries around the world have started to notice changes in consumption habits, including more emphasis on fresh produce over junk food and local fashion over fast fashion. According to social commentator and trend forecaster Li Edelkoort, some of these changes could have an enduring positive effect: "It seems we are massively entering a quarantine of consumption where we will learn how to be happy just with a simple dress, rediscovering old favourites we own, reading a forgotten book and cooking up a storm to make life beautiful."
Despite all the pain caused by the economic downturn, the virus has highlighted the environmental benefits associated with less human activity. People in China and India are seeing sharp blue skies, stars, and even nearby mountains for the first time, with the scale and majesty of nature almost impossible to ignore once witnessed. According to Edelkoort, "The recent pictures of the air above China showed how two months without production cleared the skies and allowed people to breathe again... This means that the virus will show how slowing and shutting down can produce a better environment... I am hopeful for a better system."
The way we consume, travel, and entertain ourselves was already having a negative effect on environmental and social systems. However, few people had decided to slow down and buy less stuff before the pandemic took hold. According to Edelkoort, "The impact of the outbreak will force us into slowing down the pace, refusing to take planes, working from our homes, entertaining only amongst close friends or family, learning to become self-sufficient and mindful."
When the COVID-19 crisis is over, modern society will probably revert to old habits, although maybe with a twist. While it's very hard to change economic systems, the clear skies over China and lack of traffic in western cities does offer a glimpse of an alternative tomorrow. We don't need anything as dramatic as an economic revolution to make the world a better place, just some everyday people looking for better quality goods and services, and more meaningful work and culture, a little closer to home.