The coronavirus pandemic is the Transition Point

Sean Culey

The current coronavirus pandemic is set to change many of our existing paradigms, both socially, economically and technologically, and will end up completely defining the 2020’s. Many countries have just introduced state-supported living on a huge scale, paving the way to the implementation of a Universal Basic Income, and in doing so have broken the rules of capitalism, incurring debt levels not seen since WWII. While 2008 represented the collapse of the fifth wave, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic will be the recalibration of the sixth, causing governments to nationalise the economy, subsidise incomes, and forget about balancing books in order to protect not just the economy of stocks and shares, but of wages and jobs.

By Sean Culey

This period will teach a population to live in isolation, learning to order everything online, work remotely, and embrace non-group activities. Children and students are being taught by online means, gyms are setting up remote and virtual offerings, restaurants and cafes have had to offer delivery and take-out options – basically every company has had to either rethink their business model, or their ways of working, accelerating the digital and online revolution.

The current reality of long commutes in packed traffic and living life out of a suitcase will also be forgone, and few will look forward to their return. This behaviour will become the new normal, and business models will need to adapt to this new consumer behaviour or fail. Numerous existing businesses that rely on physical contact, group activities or consumer presence will falter, and the jobs that go with them will be lost, while the online behemoths like Amazon will prosper.

The forces of creative destruction will be amplified; the S curve of innovation will be ascended. New technologies will break cover, and the digitisation of the world will be fast-tracked. Many will be left behind, unable to change in time. The economy will rebound, but taxation rules will need to be redesigned to ensure these behemoths contribute to pick up the slack created by the loss of the businesses they have creatively destroyed.

Supply chains will be reshored

We will see supply chains reshored in order to be less risk-exposed and more agile, for the shorter the supply chain, the stronger and faster it is. The remaining companies will also invest heavily in non-biological substitutes – AI systems that plan, digital assistants that speak, robots that make, store, pick, pack, & deliver goods etc, accentuating technological unemployment. The more automated the supply chain is, the less likely it is to be disrupted through resource unavailability.

Speed and personalisation will become a competitive battleground. The continued exploitation of consumer data will become key to this; something that will get an adrenaline shot through this pandemic due to the dramatic increase in online shopping and entertainment. As more people get exposed to the convenience of ordering from home, combined with the desire to avoid contact with other people, then the request for on-demand, automated delivery of goods will skyrocket. Drones and delivery robots will go from novelty to utility in 12 months. The PAL supply chain (Personal, Automated, Local) that I have been describing for the last 5 years is about to become the norm.

The positive side of the coronavirus pandemic

On the positive side, the creation of a common enemy and common hardship may see a reduction in traditional left v right ideologies and hostilities, and the reduction of constant global travel and the harmful side-effects that brings. Globalisation has peaked, and we may see a return of a more community-focused spirit.

The negative side of the coronavirus pandemic

But on the negative side, new challenges will arise from the pandemic. Europe will eventually control the outbreak, but less developed nations will struggle. Africa, for example, has less developed healthcare, high social mixing and a population that mostly lives hand-to-mouth. It will be devastated, and as this highly contagious virus spreads through their societies, people will flee, seeking to find solace in countries with more capable healthcare facilities.

However, as many will be infected either before they set off or during the journey, they will not be welcomed in countries that are only just recovering themselves. Expect to see issues at borders, which will escalate as people become desperate to get in, while countries are desperate to keep them out. Tough decisions will have to be made, and there will be conflict. Imagine 2015’s migration crisis but x10. Only this time no leader will be confidently declaring; ‘let them come; we can do this’.

The flip-side of individual freedom is collective responsibility

The West has also taken a giant step towards a technocratic future, and the recent inconsiderate actions of the public, from panic hoarding to continuing to socialise when told not to, have highlighted the Tragedy of the Commons, leading to demands for increased state surveillance and behaviour control. Previously Western societies were high on individual freedom, but also community-minded. What recent days have highlighted is that as the make-up of society has changed, so has its attitudes and adherence to previously well-accepted social-contracts. We have forgotten that the flip-side of individual freedom is collective responsibility; without this all we have is chaos and Hobbsian self-interest.

We need to remember these responsibilities, for as Aldous Huxley astutely observed, “liberties aren’t given; they are taken.” The coronavirus pandemic has legitimised China’s nation-wide technological oversight and societal control and accelerated its implementation. Any resistance has been swept aside, and new tools have been developed. Right now there are Chinese police with access to the location and movement of every citizen, wearing facial recognition glasses that not only immediately identify who you are, but also measure your body temperature and check your current social credit score.

Privacy issues in the West

The West are also applying these measures, tech and legislative powers. The coronavirus pandemic is leading to numerous short-term actions and the potential unintended consequences of these are not considered, for when you are on fire your focus is on the next 10 seconds, not the next 10 years. The UK government has already demanded that mobile companies release GPS records of people so they can track the movements of those infected with COVID-19. Soon we will see more draconian and widespread restriction of people’s mobility as deaths rise.

Many of the liberties and freedoms that are being taken now are not going to be returned after the pandemic is over, as it will prove too tempting for them to hold onto them after the danger has passed. Already there are worried calls from some MPs for time limits on the measures being applied. Currently, these calls are falling on deaf ears.

The dystopian future society

In conclusion, this pandemic has accelerated our move towards the dystopian future society I feared would arise and detailed in the last chapters of Transition Point. It is both a Cassandrian and bittersweet feeling. The world is about to change in many ways; not many of them good. As Vladimir Ilyich Lenin stated; ‘There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen.”

Welcome to the Transition Point.

Sean Culey, transformation change agent, speaker & author of the book Transition Point (2018)