I recently met with a friend for dinner. The last time we saw each other face to face was months ago. Because of the strict self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, we had mostly been communicating via social network chatting apps. I have to say the meeting was a bit odd considering the vibe around us.
Starting with myself, I postponed taking off my mask as late as I could. Even when I was ordering food I had my mask on. The waitress who took my order was also wearing a mask. My friend and I took ours off when we started eating, but we noticed that people who were waiting for their food or paying their bills all had their masks on. To be honest, I’m not looking forward to another eating-with-masks experience. I’d rather invite friends to my home so that we can relax with no masks necessary.
What I’m most concerned about is that our lifestyle will experience big, permanent changes after the pandemic. Here are some trends that I see coming.
1 More home cooking and less deliveries
During the pandemic, home cooking has never been so important; this will likely continue even after the pandemic, considering the safety regulations that will remain in place. I myself started baking from scratch after a bakery near my house was shut down. The result is rewarding not only because I have more than enough fresh bread to consume, but also baking is absolutely therapeutic. I am filled with joy seeing yeast making bubbles in the dough that I prepare, slowly swelling like a balloon. Rubbing the dough is an exercise. More than that, it reminded me of some of my best memories as a child, playing with a piece of dough and making them into different jewelries being with my mom in her regular baking routines.
It got me to think about how many skills we’ve lost and how many memories we’ve buried because of the way that fast food and delivery apps have come to dominate our modern life. I can recall all those times my family and I were making canned tomatoes, pickles, and roasted nuts. The food was so delicious and we were so happy. I’m recreating these precious experiences by making pickles first, and I hope I can keep it up as long as possible.
One of my friends now cleans any delivered food package like it is a religious ceremony, by spraying the bag with medical alcohol first, wiping all the boxes, and then heating up the food before eating it. I’ve stopped ordering food deliveries to avoid the burden of a religious cleansing process, and thoughts about who touched the food and whether that person is healthy.
I’ll stick with home cooking.
2 Working from home and remote conferences
When social media apps became trendy, communication was made through texts, emails, and audio calls without meeting face-to-face. Remote working will become dominant after the pandemic because it is the safest and most efficient method. That’s why large companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook have already started making changes, telling many of their workers that they would now work from home permanently. Basically, before an effective vaccine can be distributed, the risk and the cost of daily commutes and business travels will continue to be high, and very real. But, because of our ability to quickly create and adapt to more advanced technologies, it doesn’t have to mean that we’ll work any less or less efficiently.
What could really pose a challenge is the type of business models that co-share an office and living space, or those that rely on meetings and gatherings with a large quantity of people. It puts modern education under a real test. In China, most primary and middle schools instructed students to switch to online-learning at home for 2-3 months during the pandemic. Video classes continue to be welcomed for either younger groups of students in preschool, as well as the older group of students, e.g. graduate students. I have young parent friends around the world who started homeschooling their kids during lock-downs. This might become a new norm. We never know what might come next after the COVID-19 pandemic, or how long it will last.
Many conferences and forums have been canceled or moved online, but it’s easy to shift to a smaller scale conference involving a singular or just a few speakers. It will be difficult to organize a political parliament gathering or concerts and shows which involve hundreds of and thousands of people. China has postponed the Two Sessions meetings twice and TV broadcast showed politicians who were not giving a speech all wore masks. Large concerts and show business will change. It is unclear whether everything may become AR or VR, or maybe a sort of image projection just like science fiction. We need to prepare for the future.
3 Less social or no social at all
Like I said at the beginning, my friend and I did not set another date for dining out again. Pretty much everyone I know is cutting down on social outings and travels these days. To be fair China seems to have done as much as they can to assure the mobility and social activities of one billion people are done in a safe environment. The restaurant I dined at had a thermometer to automatically check everyone’s temperatures; such equipment is almost everywhere, malls, subways, trains, airports, office buildings. Despite the privacy issue, pretty much every Chinese with a smartphone can get access to a so-called health code, or Jiangkangbao in Chinese, which is a location-based track record of a person’s travel and quarantine history. If you are healthy, your code will be green. Red could mean that you were still under quarantine or were recently in a Covid-19 epicenter. The ones with green code can move around.
The green code is like a mark on you, I don’t know how long we need to rely on it. I surely hope that our fear over the virus won’t tame us into becoming domesticated animals. Then we’ll have no social life at all.