Cultural Bubbles Will Thrive

There’s nothing but uncertainty when we think about our future post Covid-19. First, no one knows when and how this will be over. The question I keep hearing is, “when will things return to normal?” That can be translated into, “when will things get back to how they were?” As you listen to the news, the scientists and the pundits, there’s some serious doubt as to whether we will ever return to the way things were. Let me add my voice to this cacophony and I’ll start with two major assumptions. Economists and other social scientists will spend the next 10 years validating or invalidating these assumptions. There will be significant long term impact to where we work and post-secondary education.

Companies have been playing with the expansion of working from home for years. Companies were shifting from a workforce that was 100% in the office to one spending some percentage of time working remotely. Covid 19 catalysed this experiment and accelerated it to 100% for any and all who can work from home. As the pandemic recedes the % of work from home will shift back to working at the office but nowhere near the quantity we saw just a couple of months ago. Over time companies will realize that the cost of office space isn’t worth the additional productivity gained from having workers close together. Current office space will slowly be transformed for other use, residential, warehouse etc…

Collegiate education will also never be the same. Reputable universities started offering remote graduate learning programs 10-20 years ago. Over the last five years there’s been an explosion in online learning mainly focused on skills rather than a broader education. Codeacademy, Skillshare, Udemy, Masterclass, etc… Again, Covid 19 has forced us from in person learning to 100% distance learning. As the virus recedes we’ll see a return to in person learning but not to the extent that we’ve seen historically. Students and employers will start to understand that the additional benefits of an in person education don’t outweigh the costs of attending a 4 year university. Even before the virus, the cost of post secondary education was a point of contention as the debt of college graduates who started working post college steadily increased to suffocating levels.

All of this is context for my broader hypothesis. The cultural bubbles that currently exist will get worse. Work and school are the two greatest places for exposure to other races, religions, backgrounds and beliefs. This exposure doesn’t take place during formal meetings, presentations or seminars. It takes place as people interact beyond a direct purpose whether that interaction is talking in a break room, hanging out in a dorm, having a conversation with your cube mate or eating together in the cafeteria. All of this will be reduced going forward.

What replaces this interaction? It’s replaced by social media and those you choose to interact with online or in person. It’s human habit to interact with those of similar beliefs. This is because of comfort, similar people joining organizations and algorithms pushing information to us which reinforce the beliefs we already have. This is dangerous. We’ve seen what the seclusion of information, data and ideas has done to America over the last 2 decades. Without environments which force exposure to different ways of thinking, the segregation of our society will get worse.