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What will “normal” look like after coronavirus? Experts imagine a different world.
The coming weeks are full of uncertainty as the world is shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, but some experts are already thinking about the impact of the current crisis on society for years to come.
A Deloitte and Salesforce report released this month presents four scenarios for the next three to five years – and they all tell a story of a world radically changed by the virus in order to help leaders prepare for a variety of possible futures.
“Even their best screenplay looks pretty bad,” trend expert and keynote speaker Daniel Levine told USA TODAY.
Rather than making specific predictions, the scenarios in the “The world remade by COVID-19” report focus on what we don’t know yet, said Andrew Blau – Deloitte Consulting CEO and project leader – at USA TODAY.
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The end result: an intentionally blurred image of several possible futures, varying according to the unfolding of several unknowns – such as the duration of the pandemic. These possible futures highlight trends that could soon define our era.
At one end of the spectrum: a short-lived pandemic that will hit small and medium-sized businesses. It leaves consumers – grateful to be back with friends, family and colleagues in person – to reassess some of their habits before the pandemic.
At the other end: a protracted, almost impossible to contain virus that leaves the world isolated, wary and suffering.
Levine, who was not involved in the project, said the report tackled the difficult task of looking back on the years the right way. While none of the scenarios described in the report are likely to unfold as the authors imagine them to be today, Levine said the future is likely to be a mixture.
Here are the four scenarios of the authors:
The passing storm
In this possible future, our fight against the virus is going better than expected – but remains at a high economic cost, especially for the middle class and small businesses.
The pandemic “leaves its mark on society, but does not change everything,” said Blau.
Government plans to contain the virus generally work and citizens comply with the measures. Success leads to greater confidence in our institutions, but class tensions simmer while the lower and middle classes bear the brunt of economic damage.
What could life be like in this future? In many ways, daily life would remain relatively stable, said Blau. Locked out living will remind many people of the value of community and company. Weeks of increased telework and online business will prompt many to change some of their behaviors.
Sunrise in the east
The authors note the possibility that China and other East Asian countries may be able to deal with the virus more effectively, thanks to what Western nations may regard as a cumbersome tactic.
Aggressive locking and surveillance systems have shown promise in the fight of the virus in several East Asian countries. If the uneven response of western countries turns out to be less effective, world power could shift to China and its neighbors, the authors speculated.
What could life be like in this future? The political repercussions of this are hard to pin down for Blau, although he suspects the East Asian countries would be seen as a positive example of the way western governments are run. More clear to him: our relationship with technology could change. For years, many people have had deep concerns about privacy and suspicions of artificial intelligence. If technology is invaluable in our fight against the virus, these perceptions could change.
This scenario imagines a world where many factors – such as the severity of the disease and the economic impact – are not as bad as they could be, but only because businesses have intensified when governments were ineffective.
It is an expansion of a trend seen to some extent today – public-private partnerships where big business intervenes when governments cannot manage the crisis alone. There are threads of this in today’s daily news: tech companies fixing broken fans for the government; Apple and Google are developing apps to help fight the pandemic.
What could life be like in this future? Societies would play an even bigger role in our lives than they currently do – and Blau suspects that we would come to terms with this, as these societies have helped us through the crisis. The report says that this future could lead to an era of increased corporate responsibility and confidence.
This is the future “no one wants to happen,” said Blau. This scenario could happen if the virus turns out to be impossible to contain and spreads in long-lasting waves around the world.
“The growing number of deaths, social unrest and the economic downfall are becoming significant,” said the report.
As a result, nations are turning inward and limiting contact with the outside world in the interest of national security. It is a future where even allies feel that they cannot trust each other.
What could life be like in this future? Different nations will experience the impacts in different ways, but Blau imagines that we would live in a less connected, less confident and less prosperous world focused on survival. It is a “dark scenario” where technology is used for surveillance and control, nations limit trade between them and paranoia is common among citizens.
Will there really be one of these scenarios?
The good news: the future is not yet written and we have a say in how it unfolds.
The report’s authors said how citizens of the nations responded to the crisis as one of their main unknowns. Nations that work together and “think big and act fast” will fare better, they predicted.
The storylines in the report are meant to confront you with a possible reality that might surprise or confuse you – and that’s part of the point, said Blau. The goal is to get readers to think and mentally prepare for a wide variety of possible futures, even those that don’t seem intuitive.
Instead of believing in specific predictions for the future, he suggested embracing the uncertainty that we are all experiencing right now.
“We all imagine the future,” said Blau. “None of us really know. “
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