The New 21st Century Normal

The only thing constant is change or so they say.  Big events like a major war, a depression, or a pandemic causes the change to new ways to accelerate, and the old ways to die off more quickly.  The question I have been pondering is “What will the new normal look like after the pandemic is over?” Or will it ever be over?  COVID19 might just be a part of the “new normal”.  There are a lot of unknowns and many choices that will be made, but we can look at what is happening and be prepared for various possible scenarios that may occur.  We need to prepare to be resilient and robust.  We need to be flexible and adaptable to the changes around us.  Being not willing to adjust to the new normal will lead to failure.

Some would say that the 21st century really started in 2020 with the pandemic.  All those new 21st century ways of doing things are firmly taking root now.  It happened before.  World War I was the catalyst for the 20th century to “really start”.  A lot of aristocratic ways were discarded after the war and the 20th century truly began.

How has the pandemic changed our lives? Are these changes part of the new normal? Or are they temporary?  Looking at what has happened, we see a lot of changes.  People are wearing masks.  People are not shaking hands.  People are working from home.  People are buying online.  Students are learning online, instead of in a classroom.  Meetings are being conducted via video chat.  Concerts are performed online.  People are streaming videos to entertain themselves instead of visiting a movie theater.  People are isolating with no large gatherings allowed.  How much of this is temporary?  How much will become part of the new normal?

Looking at Tourism and the Travel Industries, you can see they have been hit very hard by the pandemic. Tourism provides 1 out of every 10 jobs worldwide.  How does the future look for them?  One possible outcome is that the pandemic will end and people will begin to travel again.  This will likely happen with assurances from the airlines, cruise ships, hotels, and other event centers that they have and will continually disinfect and clean everything to close to hospital standards.  They would also monitor people for fevers and employ other disease monitoring equipment.  They would be motivated because an outbreak would be very bad for business. Likely business would not return to the numbers they saw before.  The worst case scenario would be if the pandemic continues and they are unable to fully open.  They would go bankrupt, or would have to charge enormous rates for the very rich to travel and see the sites.  The rest of us would view the sites from our home in virtual reality or by video.  Travel would be very limited.  That would be a disaster for the travel and tourism industries.  The travel and tourism industries make their money by packing lots of people into close quarters.  Unfortunately that is also the way disease spreads.

Already we see companies saying they will allow employees to continue to work from home after the pandemic is over.  How many offices will be vacant because of this change?  How many companies who rent out office space will be struggling financially due to too many empty offices? There are some adjustments that will need to be made.

Big box stores were in financial trouble before the pandemic.  How many of them will be able to survive with the increased online purchasing?  Many of them got their start with catalogs.  Online shopping is nothing more than using an online catalog, and yet they are struggling to make that change.  It seems to me that they are no longer flexible, and they can not change.  I like to think I see there will be a return to catalog stores, where you can get advice and place an order, and also where you can return those things that were the wrong size, color, or whatever that was not right for you.  I hope that will happen, if they are willing to make the change.

These big box stores remind me of Kodak.  Kodak was the company that invented the digital camera.  Yet Kodak was destroyed because it refused to adopt the digital camera until it was too late.  Its film business was too valuable for them to make the change to digital.  Today Kodak is only a shell of the original company.  

So how flexible are you?  How flexible is your favorite company or organization?  Can they quickly adjust to the changing environment?  I am amazed at the stories of how breweries and distilleries started producing bottles of disinfectant, and companies who changed their production line to produce face shields and even ventilators in a matter of weeks.  These are the companies that are resilient and robust. They saw the opportunity and made the change.  

Likely you have already adjusted a little to the 21st century.  Do you own a smartphone?  That is a 21st century device that is changing society.  I admit I don’t use it to its full potential.  It is more than just a phone and a camera that you carry around.  Some 21st century thinking is needed to make better use of it.  What adjustments will you need to make?

This post was inspired by a very interesting article by Tim O’Reilly, “Welcome to the 21st Century”.

PS For different reasons many local churches have been in distress for years.  They have lost the younger generations.  I feel they have been living in the past, and have not been willing to change and reach out to the younger generations.  Can they be resilient and still live out their calling?  I think for some churches, if they are willing, they can make the change and survive. Unfortunately for many of them with only senior citizens attending it is likely too late.

4 thoughts on “The New 21st Century Normal

  1. There are many vaccines already in the works, with three of them being very promising, and with one of those already in stage 3 of the testing process. It will probably be released late this year. Merck is confident enough in these new vaccines that they’re already producing the one in stage 3 testing in large quantities so there’ll be a large supply of it immediately available when all testing is concluded.

    Once tens or hundreds of millions of vaccines have been administered, I think we’ll see life go back to normal pretty quickly. In fact, the pent-up demand for concerts, ball games, vacations, dining out, and large social events will surely result in a big surge of these things next year … and will hopefully also include attending church services in person again. But, like a bulge moving through a stretchable hose, those surges in demand will eventually subside again too, until society reaches its new equilibrium in 2022 and beyond.

    Nonetheless, I’m sure that some of the changes in our culture resulting from the 2020 pandemic will become permanent. There will probably forever remain a greater emphasis on online shopping and learning and even online church attendance. Many more individuals will use Skype, Zoom, or Jitsi to visit each other virtually across state lines or even international boundaries, even long after the pandemic panic is over. Many businesses, schools, and churches that had not been set up for virtual business meetings, instructional courses, or worship services before the viral plague have now had a strong enough and long enough push during this prolonged pandemic to make themselves and their offerings available online like never before.

    And there will no doubt be permanent changes in business and government as well as lessons are being learned for future epidemics and pandemics.

    There will almost certainly be changes in how to handle similar events down the road, whether at the World Health Organization, the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the US Dept. of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and many other agencies.

    There will be changes in the business world after the permanent closing of many doors that will create vacuums that’ll pave the way for new entrepreneurs. Banks and business entities of all sizes will probably seek to build greater reserves and safer investments because of the many liabilities incurred during the prolonged closures and very limited re-openings of establishments due to the ongoing need for social distancing. And since work forces will have a generally greater ability to telecommute and teleconference, airline revenues from business travelers will probably be permanently reduced … and that will, in turn, lead to higher air fares for all non-business flyers as the airlines, most of whom operate on tight margins, seek to make up the shortfall.

    Also interesting will be the impact on our federal debt, which is skyrocketing like never before — even more so now than during the 2007-2010 federal economic stimuli applied during the Great Recession. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s website at

    “The Federal Reserve has authorized nearly $6 trillion in economic support and disbursed roughly $2.2 trillion. Another $3.6 trillion of support has been authorized through legislation, of which $2 trillion has been either disbursed or committed (net deficit impact will be roughly $2.4 trillion). Finally, the Administration has authorized nearly $400 billion of support through executive action and disbursed roughly $300 billion …”

    This mind-boggling spending of money we don’t have can only result in significantly greater interest payments on our already seemingly unpayable federal debt burden, and will no doubt mean substantially higher taxes down the road. The Republicans will be reluctant to raise taxes, but tax increases will almost certainly be pushed through whenever the Democrats win back the White House and Senate.

    Yeah, there’ll be a lot of changes as a result of this corona virus … some good, some questionable, and some bad. Whether the net sum of all that change is good or bad is really hard to predict, but it will be interesting. It’s like a big, involuntary social experiment.

    Jeff Lemke

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