Post-coronavirus normal?

What will our communities look like once coronavirus is finally beaten?

Ignore the super rich in this conversation; they will be the least disrupted by the economic free fall associated with coronavirus, and they don’t care about the rest of us. It’s the mythical 99% I’m thinking about: How big will the pieces be that need picked up by those of us with some (or no) savings, a job we (might) still have, and a retirement plan that (might have) zeroed out?

And just how bad is that free fall going to be? Take the UK, for example, where a GDP drop of 15% in just ONE quarter is possible. The U.S? An ever-so-slightly better prediction of a 14% drop. Yes, it will be awhile before the global economy stabilizes, and that means it will be awhile before all of us stabilize.

But trying to figure out what our local community (not to mention the global community) might look like post-coronavirus is far more than a question of economics. What will our social fabric resemble? The atomized society already is evident; the example I still use to demonstrate that is Robert Putnam’s masterful book, Bowling Alone. Will we want to remain alone after weeks (months?) of being that way?

We entered self-isolation already fed up with people who didn’t agree with our politics, or who practiced a faith we didn’t like or trust, or who were different. If we didn’t have to see “those people” for an extended period of time, then why suddenly engage with them? We could choose to rather easily cull our (real) friends and associates list down.

I can hear the PBS’ slogan “People Like You” being morphed into a dangerous percentage of us caring about “people like me.” Tribalism is not good.

What will our education system look like? America — whether it was ready is not the issue (though we know it wasn’t ready) — has entered a real-time “alternative instructional delivery method” (don’t you love jargon?) at every level of our educational system. If we accept that one of the reasons elementary and secondary education is valuable is because of the social interactions they build inside children and teenagers, then we might see minimal disruption at those levels.

But what about higher education? College students and their parents would save a whole lot of money if they can demand more online-only classes and programs. Yes, the residence halls and Greek system have become almost a right of passage in America; but they developed because there was no other way students could be educated except in a classroom. There will be plenty of families who see the tuition and room/board bill and decide that Johnny or Katie living at home is all they can afford, and they’ll want good ol’ State U to accommodate them.

Some universities — whether because they’ve already built a significant online presence or because they have the capacity to make the pivot and sustain it — will succeed, if financial pressures or simple preference dictate that more students want an online education. Sure, the savings that would come from closing some of the physical footprint of the campus would help all universities, but, again, this is more than a question of money. Anything that is not provided sustenance dies; flipping the switch to online won’t work unless the university’s administrators and faculty are working together to make it happen. The tenuous relationship between those entities does not offer hope.

And, finally, what will be available to entertain us? Right now, we have no idea how many symphony orchestras, movie theaters, quirky independent bookstores, museums, restaurants and bars — all staples in our communities — will be around post-coronavirus. Hey, no problem, we’ll still have the sports team(s)! Sorry, folks, but that’s not entertainment; so even though such organizations might be too big to fail, they will not attract new fans just because the symphony is gone.

We often hear the phrase “the new normal” thrown around when experts attempt to explain societal change. That phrase might mean something, or it might be nothing more than a cliche. For now, let’s use it. Do you think anyone really knows what “the new normal” is going to look like after coronavirus is finally beaten?

Contracting coronavirus should scare us. A forever changed community should, too.

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