The last two years have been anything but “normal”! Our lives changed forever with the onset of the Coronavirus, resulting in lockdowns and disruptions to our ways of living. Worse, countless lives were lost (I used the term countless since there is no universal agreement yet on how many actually died due to Covid), and livelihoods disappeared. Indeed, most of us yearn to “go back in time” to New Year 2020, when we were all celebrating the beginning of a new decade.
So, has anything “good” emerged from the last two years of chaos and confusion and extreme disruption? My take is that the only good aspect of the pandemic years has been the onset of the Digital Age. The pandemic “forced” us to go virtual and though we are feeling the impact of such massive disruption, there is a Silver Lining here related to how we have seemingly learnt to live with and manage the disorder and disruptions.
In a way, the pandemic “accelerated” the arrival of the future, leading to a “future shock” of gigantic proportions, which has left all of us disoriented and the dizzying changes have made Millions seek therapy and counselling to “stay sane” in the midst of so much change has become a challenge. Moreover, the last two years have made us “reevaluate” what we mean by “success”, prompting Millions of Millennials in the United States to quit their jobs and follow their passions, so to say.
This trend, which has been dubbed The Great Resignation, is yet another instance where the “virality” of the times is making us live for the present alone, or as some would say, giving rise to Present Shock. Long Term thinking and long term planning have gone for a toss and corporates are acutely feeling the pinch of so much uncertainty, which leaves them with more questions about what comes next.
Indeed, the outcome of such trends is the difficulty in anticipating the future or living in an If Tomorrow Comes mode, with its attendant pros and cons. Moreover, there is no guarantee that we would return to normal, or the New Normal, which changes quickly to The New-New Normal in no time. Indeed, like the virus that mutates quickly, the present times too resemble a fast-changing reality TV show, with a roller coaster ride, leaving us frazzled.
However, the last two years have been positive for new working arrangements such as WFH or Work From Home and Hybrid models, long-overdue changes that were earlier resisted by bosses, managers, and corporate honchos. Though many business leaders, including the venerable NR Narayana Murthy of Infosys, have come out against WFH, I believe that these working arrangements are here to stay.
This is mainly because the “Dawn of the Digital Age and the Sunset of the Industrial Age” means that we need to reorient our ways of living and working, with our notions of the 9 to 5 workday and the 5 Day Workweek disrupted by the pandemic. As the head of The WEF or the World Economic Forum, which organizes the annual “meeting of minds” of the who’s who of the business and political world, in Davos, prophesized a few years ago, the Ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution means that we must rethink the outdated assumptions of The Smokestack Era and reorder our lives around the Digital Age.
Having said that, the last two years have also been “dark and disturbing” for Billions of people worldwide. While the Rich have gotten Richer, the Poor have become Poorer, and this is a sure recipe for social unrest. Moreover, the Second Wave of the Virus led to a “nasty and brutish” race for survival, with “each for themselves”. Moreover, the pandemic has also led to an uptick in crime, a surge in lawlessness, a “fraying” of the social fabric and a breakdown in the “social contract”, all undesirable outcomes that can have lasting impacts.
This has also led to severe anxieties and mental health issues, especially in those under 30, with many Millennials and Gen Zers, burning out and stress making them leave the workforce. Moreover, there is a sense of hopelessness and despair that is shrinking workforces worldwide, including in India, with Millions of working age adults discouraged and demoralized to the extent that they have exited the job market altogether.
Last, I am a Glass Half Full Optimist, meaning that I still see some “green shoots” in all this and I believe that sooner or later, the indomitable human spirit would triumph and our capacity to innovate and evolve would make us cross over to the other side of the bridge. However, until then, I hold my breath and hope that the virus does not trouble us yet again, with some suggesting a Fourth Wave on the Horizon. To conclude, let us collectively work towards a Post Pandemic world, where we learn from the last two and half years and improve and improvise on the insights gleaned from the way we coped with the pandemic.
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