This is the second in an ongoing series of Pandemic Predictions – posts exploring what might change over the course of this pandemic—not in terms of the virus, but in terms of our personal, professional, and cultural responses.
I think we may see a return to more simple values and simple lives. This can be a double-edged sword, but I certainly see a lot of good in it.
First, the unfortunate: As cities are now being seen as big hubs of contamination, a lot of folks who have the means will likely move out of dense downtown cores and back out into suburbs, gated communities, and even rural communities. This will reinforce the difference between the haves and the have nots; wealthier people will enjoy the outdoors and grow their own food comfortably, while poorer people in urban centres will not have those luxuries. At least it may disgorge cities a little and perhaps bring down the astronomical, unlivable rent costs.
But other moves toward a simpler life can benefit all of us. I think we’ll see a shifting of the goalposts of our culture overall. People won’t over consume as much, or keep getting the next “it” item (unless you count hand sanitizer and face masks). This tendency to shop for a lot of things has already lessened in younger generations because of their more precarious working lives; I think it will spread further as uncertainty takes hold and we are forced to reevaluate our priorities. What was “essential” to Boomers is not to Gen X-ers, Millennials and Zoomers. Fancy clothing, shoes, and watches are useless right now; we’re looking for a few comfortable clothes we can work at home in. We’re decreasing our need for many material things (except electronics, of course).
People are eating more simply, too, and not eating as much in restaurants, unfortunately for restaurants. We’ll be cooking at home for quite a while, enjoying smaller social gatherings with responsible friends and family rather than crowding into bars with strangers.
I barely cooked at all for the last ten years—I haven’t had the time to really enjoy it, and it was much easier to just get takeout or, more preferably, to eat out with friends. Now I have the time, and I’m so enjoying the full experience again. Getting to immerse myself in each stage of cooking, from the chopping of the herbs to the first smell of the onion and garlic as they warm in the pan, to the final product steaming on my plate, has been a delightful return to simpler ways. I look forward to, soon, being able to invite friends into my home and enjoying these things together.
People are connecting more with neighbours, too. In large cities, people tend not to say hi to each other; you don’t know who lives beside you, and there’s no acknowledgement as you walk beside them. It’s impersonal and isolating. But we’re now enjoying the pleasure of simply saying hello and having a chat with the people we live right next to. At first people were not returning my hellos, there was such a sense of fear; but as we all pace around and around our neighbourhoods (I’m reminded of gerbils) and seeing the same faces day after day, we have begun to greet each other warmly. We can’t go back to not recognizing or acknowledging each other, and so a radical return to an older and simpler way of living, where people know their neighbours, is happening over the course of just a few weeks. Even though we’re distant, there are new human connections forming. It’s remarkable and quite moving.
People are starting seeds, darning clothes, and learning instruments at home. Have you picked up any slower pursuits or returned to simple pleasure?