Next world by Nigel Roth
The night before the lockdown was announced in the UK - March 23, 2020 - the twenty or so pubs in and around my small Lincolnshire town were packed to the rafters. Reports had people drinking, hugging, kissing, dancing on tables, and generally indulging in as many of the activities they could that the government had ordered a lockdown to prevent.
The day of world war victory in Time Square - August 14, 1945 - is remembered for a sense of relief at having beaten the dark enemy of that era, and for very similar celebrations that took place to express a return to a more typical life, captured in Eisenstaedt’s intimate image. Life didn’t return entirely to normal on August 15, but very soon humans picked up where they had left off, living the way they had before the outbreak, and notwithstanding the mourning of the tremendous loss of life from the previous wartime years.
While transitions from one human existent phase to another don’t happen overnight - Neolithic Jane didn't wake up on the morning of Middle-moon, 2501 BCE and decide she was now Bronze Age Jane - we are astonishingly adaptable, adjustable, readjustable, and ‘retrojustable’.
So, when we are finally able to loosen Covid-19’s grip on our bodies and minds, will our world look any different?
The answer may lie in the length of time it takes to reach a point of sufficient recovery, and how devastating the loss of human life is during that period; longevity and repetition can create habitual behavior that can be hard to break. However, there may be some areas of our lives we can visualize, on any given day, post-pandemic.
Monday, August 15, 2022.
Post-pandemic Jane arises and readies herself for her journey to work.
While her pre-pandemic employer insisted she was ever-present in the office, and only work from home when she could prove beyond doubt to be sick, he was happy for her to work from home during the pandemic because that way she was at least still working. Now, he realizes he has no-one to bully and so needs her back in the creativity-killing office full-time.
The office she’s driving too has changed, of course; it has now been divided up into individual booths, and has air purifiers in each. No longer is the open plan ideal allowed so, much to the chagrin of managers who like to make sure every employee is working and not thinking, they have returned to the 80’s, and Robert Prost's ‘cubicle farms’.
While Jane’s drive to work is fairly short, she still can’t afford an electric vehicle and her employer hasn’t provided charging stations outside anyway, and so she drives her old diesel gently down the highway, helping to slowly return the environment back to its pre-pandemic gloom. She doesn’t stop to pick up Fred to rideshare anymore because the long months of social distancing have given her the perfect excuse to legitimately refuse him, sparing her his inane football diatribes and that odd musty, mothball smell from his mother’s basement where he lives.
Her morning at the office is spent having to catch up with her colleagues on their children's weekend sporting achievements, sub-par movie lists, home renovation fails, and general office drama, for which paramount knowledge she loses a good three hours. For lunch, post-pandemic Jane has a sandwich from the New Quisisana automat that opened nearby. It delivers food and drink to her with minimal human contact, as the original one did in Berlin in 1895.
With lunch in hand, Jane returns to the office where recently installed automatic doors open when she taps her badge, in the same way Heron of Alexandria's did two thousand years earlier, and she uses the metal, easily-cleanable stairs with the automated distancing mechanism, as debuted on US highways in the 1960s. She finishes her day with a group conference call (first developed in the 1980s using just text) with other department heads, and then begins her drive home.
On the way home she collects a prescription medication at the drive-through pharmacy (around since 1971 in the US), and her grocery order at the drive-through supermarket (which you’ve been able to do since the 1940s), picks up a money order at the drive-through bank (c1930) using their pneumatic tube (invented in 1799, by William Murdoch), and grabs some fast-food as she doesn’t fancy cooking when she gets in (serving us quickly since 1921).
Once back in her home via the automated garage door (first seen in 1921, with the remote opening device arriving 5 years later), post-pandemic Jane jumps on her favorite virtual web conference app (early 1990s, using audio and visual) and connects with her closest friends, while tucking into her nutritionally-challenged fast-food (but we won't judge).
Later, Jane learns that for the first time in almost two years there have been no new cases of Covid-19 reported, and she sighs with a sense of relief while inserting her hands into her personal optical imaging scanner to check fluorescent bacterial signals (c2021), before getting into bed and clapping off the lights (c1985).
Before sleep comes, Jane thinks of her life before the pandemic, and thanks her lucky stars for all these new inventions to keep her safe.
Nigel Roth, 2020