Currently, you can find numerous articles online that deal with exactly this topic. How will our world look like after the end of this crisis and above all how long will it take until we can talk about normal life again? While some people like futurist Michael Horx argue that the kind of normality we are used to will never return, I personally find this difficult to accept.
“There are historical moments when the direction of future change. We call them bifurcations. Or deep crises. These times are now.” — Michael Horx, Futurist
Hearing such statements, I inherently somehow rebel and dismiss them as exaggerated panic. Of course, we are going through a crisis, with massive effects on our society and economy, but at some point we will have a vaccine and the virus will be eradicated. I thought, once this has happened why not just go back normal? Like always, the answer to this question is a little bit more complex.
In retrospect, current events are compared to those of the Second World War, with similar drastic effects on our society. After the war nothing was the same and it was just impossible for people to go back to normal. On the one hand, because the country lay in ruins and first had to be rebuilt. And on the other hand, the economy collapsed and there was a lack of the most basic supplies at all ends. Nevertheless, the post-war period led to one of the most flourishing economic phases and is generally known as the German economic miracle. An economic upturn at this scale was only possible because people were able to adapt quickly and flexibly to the new circumstances which lead to a boom in industrialization and international trade.
Now this time we are not just talking about one country. Countries around the world are struggling with the health and economic impact of the virus. Economic success is based on import and export and only works if international trade is possible. So we must not rely on a similar economic miracle being in store for us when the pandemic ends. Even if the effects of the crisis are comparable, they are today at an unprecedented international level.
Our daily routines are currently collapsing, and neither the state nor health care institutions and economists can predict when the crisis is likely to subside. How many people will be infected, how many will die and how long will the equipment in hospitals and health care facilities last? How long will we have to stick to the rules of the Federal Government with curfews and contact bans? No expert is currently able to answer these questions. However, one thing is clear: the longer these radical measures last, the harder they will hit our economy and thus our life in the long term. Some economists speak of a deep and severe recession from which we will not recover quickly. Others predict a future from which we can emerge stronger. But let’s be honest, neither of us can take a look in the crystal-ball and foretell what the future holds for us. Still there are some methods that can help us to draw a rough picture of the near future.
In times like these, when we can’t know anything for sure, some methods help us to draw a supposed picture of our future. For example, the German Future Institute, an International Society for Future and Trend Consultants, tries to approach possible developments using scenarios. Scenarios sketch out the scope of possibilities that open up for all of us in the context of the crisis:
What developments can we expect? How will the virus change our cultural techniques, values and consumption patterns, our collective mindset?
The Future Institute has developed four scenarios in the context of the Corona crisis that describe what our future after the pandemic could look like. The scenarios are tapered to illustrate the expected change and should not be considered “realistic”. However, this approach helps us to create orientation and open up space for a new, forward-looking way of thinking. The scenarios are based on two central coordinates: 1. successful relations versus unsuccessful relations (optimistic versus pessimistic) 2. local versus global (disconnected versus connected).
The international shutdown has become the norm. When entering the train it has become natural to scan a chip in the wrist or to send each other health data before private appointments. Permits and lengthy visa procedures are required for travel abroad. Global trade as we knew it no longer exists, the basic supply is only ensured using lateral trade agreements between individual countries. The state does everything to protect its citizens. All means are welcome, for example, to stir up fears among the population or the artificial shortage of food. Therefore people grow food illegally and black market and barter trade flourish.Scenario 2 System crash: Permanent crisis mode
The virus has shaken our world permanently and it is not recovering from the drastic consequences. States only consider national interests, which leads to a loss of confidence in foreign cooperation. The fear of another pandemic keeps the world in suspense and leads to continued extreme measures such as border closures. The struggle for resources has also started. Confidence in international trade has been shaken, making sustainable stability unattainable. The collection and processing of large amounts of data under government direction are growing. Data protection rules are increasingly being abolished and the population does not object in fear of another pandemic.Scenario 3 Neo-Tribes: The retreat into the private sphere
Once the virus is eradicated, society focuses more on local structures. Regional products are valued, small communities are emerging and consolidating. Sustainability and a “we” culture are important values. Unlike before these values are only thought of locally. There is no global interaction. The Sharing Economy is growing in regional networks, traditional handicraft techniques are experiencing a boom. Capitalist consumption patterns are replaced by urban farming and cooperatives. As a result, we experience a circular economy with autonomous ecosystems is growing in regional communities. This also applies to the travel industry. The decline in international travel is not only leading to the recovery of entire landscapes but also changes the perspective of people towards long-distance traveling: it has become a luxury good.Scenario 4 Adaptation: The resilient society
The world is learning from the crisis and developing resilient, adaptive systems. The failure of global trade chains has led to a rediscovery of domestic alternatives. Stationary trade, regional products, and supply chains are experiencing an upswing. A new balance is emerging between online and offline trade as well as with globalized retail chains. People value local markets, regional producers and local online shops. The monopoly position of online retailers such as Amazon have dissolved in favor of smaller players that are less dependent on global production chains and are more readily available locally. Society is moving away from mass consumption and focusing on a healthier and more sustainable economic system.
The health system is now also being thought of holistically. The use of digital health apps have become a natural part of our daily routine and the data is shared anonymously in real-time. With predictive health, accurate forecasts can be made, for example about the likelihood of a new pandemic. By sharing networked health data and learning from former mistakes the world can create some sort of resilience. Health cannot be thought of individually — it has to be thought of in conjunction with the environment and society.
Clearly, we cannot say with certainty that we will end up with either scenario number 1 or 4. All these are predictions based on current developments with no guarantee. Probably the boundaries between scenarios will continue to blur over time. While some economists are currently talking in the media about effects where we are between scenario one or two, most of us hope that we will recover quickly and healthily from this crisis. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if in the end, we could even create a world according to scenario number 4? Of course, the success of this scenario depends on how quickly we can get back to regular working life, how new laws and regulations are passed, and generally how the attitude of our society changes towards more local sustainability. Nonetheless, we would emerge from this period stronger than before and shape our society in a sustainable way.
Wouldn’t this be nice?