Living in the first 180 pages of Stephen King’s The Stand.
I feel your incredulity. How dare this person posit hope in this time of doom? People are dying, losing their jobs and governments are struggling to keep a brave face while helpless against COVID-19. We are all living in the first 180 pages of Stephen King’s The Stand, or inside Contagion - and we know how those turned out!
Yet, fact is often stranger than fiction and although I have no doubt that our world has changed forever, I believe most of the changes are for the better. Let’s look at some.
Communication and Telepresence - The New Growth
Zoom is the number one app in the world right now. Despite privacy problems, everyone, from governments to companies, to TV shows like SNL, have defaulted to Zoom. As a result, Zoom is experiencing rapidly rising status and financial fortunes; share prices are almost double what they were in January, and the company is currently valued at $39 billion (an obscenely high multiple of the anticipated revenues). The number of people using Zoom has ballooned to 200 million per day. However, in these fickle times, this is no guarantee of continuity in dominance - tomorrow other apps may emerge and kill Zoom, especially as the likes of Google and Microsoft are upping their game in this area.
Online - The New Normal
Telecommuting will become the normal way to work. Work from home (WFH) was already a trend before COVID-19, although mainly open to only to a fraction of the total global workforce. Today, WFH is no longer perceived as a perk, but as a necessity. This trend will grow – in Pakistan as well. Think about it: why do offices exist? To create a workspace environment and enable bosses to physically supervise their employees.
However, to sustain an office at a minimum, real estate, utilities, maintenance and security services are required. By allowing people to WFH, companies can outsource these services to their employees without incurring a single paisa in the process - and relieve themselves of the administrative load. Of course, in sectors and functions that require a physical presence (for example manufacturing or operating machinery), people will still have to come in to work. But for all the others, given the global economic crunch, WFH is the only way to go.
5G - The Main Beneficiary of COVID-19
As a result of the worldwide lockdowns, telecom infrastructures globally are straining under increased internet loads. This is likely to result in a more rapid adoption of 5G than anticipated. It may also be good news for Huawei, which has been suffering from the adverse impact of US sanctions on their Android business.
Conspiracy Theories Thrive and News Souces Shrink
Check your WhatsApp feed; how much of the stuff shared have you or anyone else actually verified? Many of us are now gravitating to reliable sources like BBC, CNN, DAWN and even Bloomberg, because we know these outlets will give the news first, and then give their take on it. The flip side is that conspiracy theories will become increasingly the norm, if only because the current scenario looks so much like apocalyptic science fiction (look at how credible news outlets are having to publish rebuttals on the theory that COVID-19 is linked to 5G).
We Will Live Work and Think Differently
You think this will pass? It will. You think this is an once-in-a-lifetime event? No, it is not. When Enron collapsed, the world of finance, accounting and internal controls changed forever. Today, accountants and auditors are mandated to report fraud and undergo rigorous independence tests. Look at what FATF did to the freedom to open bank accounts, or 9/11 to airport security. There is no going back after this crisis. We are destined to live in a far more paranoid world, with the fear of the next pandemic ever present.
According to McKinsey & Co, the new normal could emerge from Asia (now taking tentative steps towards normalisation) and among the trends predicted will be rethinking the relationship between governments and citizens and moving supply chains closer to home. Translation: not everything will be made in China anymore.
Entertainment Will Never Be the Same
We are relying less and less on on physical media for content and environmental concerns about paper will ultimately mean that books, newspapers and magazines will go entirely digital. But there is still a lot of stuff we do physically: eating out, going to the cinema, parks and concerts. All require stepping out of the house and coming into contact with other people. In my opinion, we are going to be hypochondriacs for the foreseeable future, which means that the demand for such activities will significantly reduce.
Instead of going to the cinema, people will buy even bigger TVs and wait for the film to come to them. Concerts and theme parks will be visited via virtual reality. We may even see drones flying around historical sites and remote controlled by a digital tourist sitting thousands of miles away. Restaurants will increasingly cater to delivery and take away As a result, there will be a boom in streaming and take away and delivery services, home entertainment equipment and online meeting platforms, and virtual reality.
Marketing Will Become Individual
Does a huge billboard advertising a soap strike you as personal? What if instead, you receive a notification on your phone/smartwatch/ retina implant that says “have you washed your hands well today?” Generic messages aimed at a wide public are just that – generic; today we ask for hard data as to why a product is better.
Given that content will increasing move to online streaming, advertisers will be able to stream targeted ads. Netflix is already doing this by targeting their audiences’ viewing preferences by guessing their racial profile through their preferences and then matching the image highlighting a film, to the viewer's racial profile.
We are living the future.
Talha bin Hamid is an accountant by day and an opinionated observer of pop culture, an avid reader, a gamer and an all-around nerd by night. email@example.com.