Coronavirus will have many repercussions. Some will be short lived. Some will last forever. Many will be financial. But the unspoken one is a world put on pause.
The new normal in a coronavirus-struck world is one where planning and foresight seem futile. One where data, which we’ve until now touted as the only trustable reality, is either non-existent or loaded with conflicted conclusions.
Two weeks ago my personal calendar looked like a Mondrian painting. It was filled with little lines that represented where I had to be, which audience I would address, what airline, which country. Today, all that is in limbo, with tentative placeholders for the not-so-distant future turning my calendar into an indistinct blur.
For junkies like me that thrive in conferences, face-to-face meetings and airplane lounges, Covid-19 brings feelings of isolation and disconnectedness. Today I told a friend that it felt a lot like those post 9/11 days in NYC, when the rug of normal life was pulled from beneath us. In those dark days I made a calculated vow not to let the threat of terrorism get to me and to continue travels as planned. That first post-9/11 flight found me sleeping beneath a mural of the Trade Centers on the 11th floor of the New York, New York hotel in Las Vegas. I didn’t shut my eyes.
Now, nearly 20 years later, my pluck is diminished. I am, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention refuses to put a number on it, “an old person”. One who’s more likely to be undone by someone sneezing on a crowded plane. It’s one thing to declare that terrorism wouldn’t stop me; it’s another to declare the same for an airborne microbe.
Already this month large annual conferences and events including MWC in Barcelona, SXSW in Austin, the large gaming conference GDC, and large medical conference HIMSS, have been canceled amidst coronavirus fears. TED has been rescheduled. Others will follow suit. Though we don’t know much more about the probability of contracting the virus than we did about getting caught in an act of terrorism all those years ago, this time global gatherings are taking a noticeably less defiant stance.
Whether you believe in fate or microbes, it seems that forces greater than us are telling us to slow down, hunker down and turn inward. Legions of suitcase-rolling, deskside-meeting, hand-shaking, cheek-kissing business travelers may never recover. Or they’ll learn that all of the movement was unnecessary. Tech industry investors are already shifting their dollars to remote-work systems, cloud and edge computing and 5G infrastructure. The era of social business may never return to status quo.
A child of the 1960’s, the anti-establishmentarian in me went googling for thinking about how to embrace the corona-slowdown. Sure enough, there it was, in the Grateful Dead’s koan-like Anthem of the Sun album from 1968, which was subtitled “the faster we go the rounder we get”. Simple words from the equally complex times back then. Next, I bumped into dark humor writer Richard Kadre,y who said “The universe is a meat grinder and we’re just pork in designer shoes, keeping busy so we can pretend we’re not all headed for the sausage factory.” Clearly the 1960’s don’t have a stranglehold on end -of-times slowdowns (can you sing R.E.M.’s It’s the End of the World as We Know It?) but history, literature, and song seem a good antidote to the frenzied corona-news cycles.
In the face of Covid19 we are already starting to find ourselves not so busy. We will be forced to take pause, gain some perspective and invent new ways of doing business for 21st century realities. I’m already jones-ing from my business travel addiction but looking forward to a bit of a worldwide pause.
Robin Raskin is the founder of Living in Digital Times, a high-tech conferences and events company. Her company was acquired by the Consumer Technology Association shortly before the virus outbreak.
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