Post-pandemic society: a unique opportunity to build a more human-centered world
18 min read

Post-pandemic society: a unique opportunity to build a more human-centered world

Please start here: first of all, let me apologize for all the grammatical and vocabulary mistakes committed in this text. English isn’t my first language. But this article it’s proof that I’m trying to improve it.

This isn’t another future predictions article. In this essay you’ll find a desirable — but also possible — prospective sketch about how we can take advantage of the disruptive moments we’re living to build a more human-centered world. Imagination and creativity are the best tools we’ve to push transformations that really make sense. But sadly, modern societies are more and more plunged into their day-to-day tactics. Obsessed in a unhuman hyper-efficient management, technocracy and uncontrolled growth, instead of taking a break and reimagine the world they want to build to their future generations. Well; the coronavirus crisis has forced us to make that break. Let’s take a moment and start thinking about desirable ideas, not just in the day-to-day short-term surviving.

Some people — including political leaders — are being dragged by the trend to make unthought decisions. Looking for the quickest, easiest and hyper-rational solutions and defending a social darwinist approach to face covid-19. But, generally, we’ve seen bright solidarity sparkles all around the world. Volunteer neighbors bringing groceries to their seniors to facilitate their isolation. Business making provisional respirators and protective equipments for our medical soldiers. Or, like Spain, France, UK and India, families going out to the balconies and making clapping tributes to support our health system fighting the virus on the battlefront.

But we cannot leave our world in hands of solidarity. International supply chains have become useless in their task to efficiently provide basic protection materials. Public and private health systems have collapsed all over the world. People and communities have had to face this shock with a total absence of international leadership. We’ve been guided by imprecise, unequal and uncontrolled epidemiological data. All of this, accompanied by lots of insufficient — sometimes fake — tests. In many cases, we’ve sadly abandoned our elders. We are able to deliver a t-shirt within 24 hours but we’re not prepared to produce enough sanitary material. We can develop the most impressive algorithms but we’re not ready to assist an old man through telemedicine yet. Solidarity matters, but we must build a system that does not depend entirely on it.

Covid-19 has become a worldwide sanitary tragedy, but it might be also the vaccine we’ve needed so long. Now we’ve the opportunity to take advantage of the empathy, solidarity and energy we’ve developed these days and turn it into transformation power. Because coronavirus crisis isn’t equivalent to those already lived by our modern society — such 2008 financial crisis or 30s Great Depression — . We’ve reach the highest systemic weakness in decades, affecting not just our financial mechanisms but all social, individual, sanitarian and economic gears that supposedly were under control.

This vulnerability feeling has made us deeply rethink our values and the way we live. Because our scientists know — and this fact isn’t new — that other viruses are waiting on the earth surface. Watching the climate change progress and looking for its moment to revive and infect the next rare animal located in the most remote place on the planet. Wishing to take advantage of the human expansive craving that pushes them to conquer wild and unexplored territories.

We’ll find a vaccine, but future pandemics will emerge. That fact means our society we’ll never be equal as before, but that doesn’t mean it will get worse. In the following paragraphs I’ll be drawing some ideas from different perspectives wishing to inspire some readers to push little acts on their day-to-day in this way. Because, more than ever, we’ve learned that very small events occurred in a remote place of the world incredibly affect to the rest of the planet. I wish the next ones to be significantly more positive than those triggered by this virus.

Unlimited growth is over; a more human economy must start

Growth is exciting. Companies growth capabilities are one of the modern society great achievements. We’re creating, innovating and moving forward as fast as we had never imagined before. Our lives improve every day, every minute, due to the large industries growth capacity. But we have a serious problem: growth as we know it’s terribly uneven and it isn’t focused on the most fundamental human needs.

We thought social inequalities were a problem that only affected the most disadvantaged people. But, actually, the world is an interconnected organism where the failure of one of its organs can seriously affect the entire body. What have billionaire companies in the United States been doing to face contagious in the strongest country in the world? Reality is that the most precarious individuals in American society, where some of them carry chronic diseases over the years, has highly affected by the virus. The absence of a strong health system to protect them has punched the entire American society. Precariousness of vulnerable directly impacts the upper and middle classes of society.

That’s a problem between social classes within a country, but it will also become an international problem. We’ll see massive migrations from developing countries to first world countries, running away from the virus and looking for a vaccine. That fact will trigger real uncontrollable demographic problems. Rich countries aren’t responsible for all troubles from developing ones. But they’re accountable for not driving their creation, innovation and growth capacity in solving global problems such as inequality and poverty in different levels.

A human-centered economy is not about making $3 t-shirts so that even the most disadvantaged citizen can buy them. Neither making fast food with no nutritional value and take it anywhere on the planet in less than 24 hours. The people-centered economy tries to solve the great inequality problems caused by our own society. From the simplest, such as not having access to decent health coverage, to the most complex, such as not having access to potable water. We still have many serious and priority problems to solve than getting a car to drive itself — as exciting as that is — .

Ordinary and humble people reappreciation

Health workers, transporters, cashiers, caregivers, police and other ordinary people have been at the battlefront against the virus. Many people argue contagions don’t understand about social classes, but that idea isn’t true. Poorest workers and their families have been much more exposed to the virus than the rest of society. Those who cannot remote work or give up a salary that forces them to be exposed every day. Those who, in many countries, cannot even access to a public health system supported by themselves.

They have fought without complaining, taking a risk for the entire population well-being. Invisible ones have become essential, so we should make a deep moral reflection. For decades, our society has undervalued the most fundamental assets in difficult times as today’s. They have always been essential, but we only remember them when we turn extremely vulnerable.

Applause tributes have been launched in many countries and that fact is terrific, but not enough. The problem is much deeper; it’s about the permanent humble people vulnerability. Always on the battlefront, always unprotected. These circumstances aren’t new in this crisis. Public services are the only effective tool for fighting inequality. Now we have discovered our ordinary people dependence, let’s rethink a future to build national public systems, guaranteeing health, education, and essential services access.

China’s going to lead the world: let’s learn to plan like them but keeping individual rights and freedom

United States has lost its authority to lead modern society. Its economic, solvent, and explosive model let them to become the world’s leading power by years. But this model, where the country’s direction is strongly delegated into large private companies, has been totally ineffective facing the pandemic with the expected solvency. Strong public services are saving lives, not markets. All this without taking into account of the chaotic, negationist and anti-scientific Trump administration management during the crisis.

Europe has better served the needs of its citizens, because they’ve developed a welfare state for years where health has become a state priority. But the absence of a supranational strategy has demonstrated the weakness of nations to individually front the disease. There is evidence about this: supply chains have been inefficient in getting health supplies to each nation. European governments must think over why they haven’t put together the pieces of a solidarian and cohesive European Union yet.

On the other hand, China and other Asian countries have emerged as silent leaders: acting instead of talking. Efficiently flatting the curve, developing technology to save off contagious and taking more brave and early confinement measures than occidental countries. Also manufacturing and distributing sanitary material before anyone. This is possible because of their capacity to develop public long-term planned and coordinated strategies orchestrated from the state. But we must consider the constant freedom and fundamental rights violation of its citizens. We ought to achieve an intermediate point.

This global scenario has let us to compare different national management solutions against the same problem. The states with more strategic management capabilities in their industries have been shown the more efficient facing the crisis. Because they’ve mid and long-term planning competencies to manage public resources in order to achieve a common goal: to prioritize population security and wellbeing against individual economic interests.

Now we’ve the chance to rethink public management models and strengthen government competencies fields as important as health. We must develop a preventative mindset and coordinate long-term plans. But taking care of not to make the same mistakes as China, violating individual freedom and fundamental rights. We should also delegate innovation and productive capabilities to private companies. And, of course, defend and preserve individual rights reached in the occidental countries. Because a society without rights isn’t neither a healthy society.

Towards a coordinated globalization with solidarian and auto-sufficient local communities

We didn’t notice our world was too vulnerable until now. Neither a local crisis, born in the remote city of Wuhan, could so seriously affect the whole world population. Coronavirus crisis can be extrapolated to other future crisis we’ll surely suffer. Especially comparable with climate crisis we’re already suffering.

Butterfly effect revels we cannot front natural disasters in an isolated way. We’ve a chance to promote joint programmes towards future goals achieving such as those raised by UN’s 2030 Agenda. It’s mandatory to avoid nationalism and protectionism reactions because they just transform our states into weaker organizations unable to front global crises. We need to weave solidarity networks, emergency funds and supranational organizations in order to coordinate a global strategy towards welfare states.

Human must stop fighting between us and start fronting natural adversities (UN ceasefire petition is a hopeful example of that idea). To grant universal basic income to those disadvantaged people because the world’s progress depends a lot on them. Even from an egoist point of view, first world countries need developed countries to keep their appreciated lifestyle and their wellbeing states.

Global coordination must be accompanied by a strong local self-sufficient communities development. Prioritizing their local production capacity is the only way we can stop nationalist and protectionism reaction. Food and basic products self-suffiency become more important than ever to be prepared to front a future crisis. We’ve seen how solidarity between communities already exist all over the world. So, in the future, we just must guarantee that independence from the large global supply chains.

Small creators emerge versus the big tech monopolization

Amazon leads the e-commerce industry, and entertainment is grabbed by Netflix beside other digital players. Everything has become 100% digital these days, so their market strength has exponentially increased. On the other hand, small business, creators and makers have been strongly weakened because their success amply depends on the analogical experience. Small concert halls, libraries, local shops, etc. Big tech companies could shape a market oligopoly kicking out small independent creators, squeezing them into their hard commission system. This situation could push us into a terrible cultural and consuming homogenization.

Small creators should take advantage of the e-commerce accelerated maturation developed these days. Possibility to launch business and online stores is easier than ever. Additionally, commission-depender players has become totally dispensable in the new game. Everyone with internet access — that’s another point — can compete now in the market like other bigger players; no programming, design or large investment needed. But they need to embrace the right strategy to success.

Independent makers and small brands advantage is that they could develop their own voice. A differentiated style in front of the impersonal and distant multinationals. Small designers, developers, sellers, musicians and other actors are already emerging and making a living on the internet. Creating and launching their own projects escaping intermediaries. The key is to offer a different product, service o message; original and meaningful. It isn’t about making things better than Amazon but making them different. In a fast-consuming and offer homogenization era, users appreciate original voices. They look for meaningful brands with powerful missions that represent their lifestyle.

Health data collection cost-benefit evaluation and trust in intuition

Tech disease monitoring has supposed a privacy intromission into the citizen’s life, but has also been fundamental to prevent the transmission. The discussion about data collection and treatment by businesses and governments already exist. But, overcome this situation, citizens have advanced several years of collective debate about personal data usage costs and benefits.

Present is data-driven, and the future will be even more. Personalization and e-commerce possibilities are infinite. Legislation and good practices are highly developed in that field. However, the discussion in terms of security or public health is not as advanced. Luckly, we’re already analyzing different societies perceptions about giving up their privacy to grant a greater good. The answer is encouraging. The vast majority of citizens are willing to give up their privacy to benefit society as a whole.

Biological passports, virus trackers, chronic disease monitoring or catastrophes predictions through AI will push a great transformation on the global human wellbeing. To prevent future pandemics. Also to control old people chronic diseases and make their lives better. But strong controls must be established for businesses and governments to use our data. Personal information can’t become a political weapon or an individual tool to defend particular interests counter to the majority.

Thanks to coronavirus we’ve also learned that data should carefully be used in a preventative way. Trends must be analyzed but microdata should not be taken literally. Because the way we collect, process and interpret data is being very different in each country. Companies should also learn this lesson: data is a complementary tool to make decisions, but they’ll never replace intuition. Neither common sense. A perfect balance ought to be found in this new digital capitalism era.

Media prevail upon fake news, but they face a hard business model transformation towards a more independent and healthy one

Fake news has been spreading as fast as the virus these weeks. But citizens -including elders- are learning very swiftly how to uncover them. Also, many polls throw that population is trusting more than ever in media. In uncertain times we look for reliable references. Politicals, social media, citizens and fact-checkers fighting against disinformation in the quest for reliable sources.

Proportion that used each for coronavirus news in the last week | Source: Reuters Institute, Navigating the ‘infodemic’ - (Wednesday 15 April 2020)

However, the media landscape is suffering painful news. Audience traffic numbers are higher than ever, but advertising is dramatically falling. The main media revenue stream is collapsing. Firings, lock-outs and mergers will materialize in the next months. But a very hopeful landscape is opening behind this reality: reader-revenue model is exponentially growing — both subscriptions and memberships — . Readers are willing to pay for trustiness information in uncertain times.

The reader-revenue model taking-off is great news for media. It helps them to be more independent than ever in front of political and business powers. Because media companies are broadly invested by banks, states and businesses, making it impossible to freely inform. However, a subscriptions based model encourages journalists to publish compromised information without fear reprisals.

A healthier business model way is opening for media. At the end of the day, journalists want to act as a public service bringing to light compromised information about banks, companies and corrupt organizations. If readers pay for information again, newsrooms will recover the watchdog role in their mission to control people in power.

A more sustainable era of personal-professional conciliation starts

Remote work isn’t what we are suffering these days. Makeshift home offices have become our workplace. Surviving amidst wild children with no classes and dealing with companies allergic to remote-working culture. Distance working doesn’t mean be enslaved by the smartphone or video calls; not even work from home. Despite all, this worldwide experiment has helped us to discover several benefits in relation to the environment, conciliation and digital transformation.

Forced, all of us have discovered that the vast majority of companies are ready to remote working. Managers’ fear about losing control of their employees is mostly unfounded, because workers are being more responsible than ever in their workplaces. Companies have made a big step towards digital transformation. New strategies may be developed in order to promote the personal-professional conciliation of their employees. Even physical headquarters fixed costs will be also dispensable.

Environmental benefits of remote working have been enormous. Pollution in big cities have been reduced to ridiculous levels, creating a huge oxygen balloon for the planet. When the coronavirus vaccine will be found, governments must promote urbanistic development plans allowing their citizens to work closer to their homes or communities. Accessible co-working spaces integrated into the local communities lifestyle. This way we’ll win a lot of years in the battle against climatic change.

Remote working doesn’t suit well everyone. But many people have found a new work style that fits really well in their lives. And now, they are unwilling to give it up. Organizing their schedules according to their family circumstances, spending more time with their kids, avoiding constant interruptions or scheduling better their meetings. At the end of the day, taking control of their planning and setting the way they want to live.

Those telecommuters who can work normally have become more productive than ever. This fact must be considered by companies in the midterm. In opposition to presenteeism and appearances, remote working promotes goal-driven teams. Dissimulation isn’t effective in the distance: data speaks for itself.

Remote education has also introduced in our lives. Millions of children, teenagers and university students have been forced to study from home. Benefits are similar to remote working, but having their own ones.

Online education is infinite — mostly free — , but we haven’t taken advantage at all. We’re used to be guided in all our education path and that’s terrible. Our brains and skills after university are almost identical, because they teach monolithic brains, not multidisciplinary. Just the opposite that the labor market wants: competitive differentiation and uniqueness.

But digital learning is different. Students must develop autodidact skills in order to solve questions and problems on their own; at the distance. In the end, they’re learning to learn, which is one of the most powerful skills in the XXI century. Sadly, modern schools and universities doesn’t use to teach them how to do that. The magic of education on the internet resides exactly in this point: to develop our own learning path to become a unique professional. Complementing our main job with dozens of interests that shapes our own character and perspective.

Not every education should be in the distance, because physical experiences are fundamental to social learning. But this online education forced experiment will help a lot of people discover that they can learn everything they want on the internet. Building their own way at the distance. Developing hight autonomy and a competitive advantage over the labor market rivals — and entrepreneurship — .

Home reappreciation and the intergenerational suture

Staying so much time at home has discovered us the value of our house. A safe place where our life lapse and we find all essential and fundamental things. Home has lost a lot of value in modern life, because frenetical rhythm and the unlimited entertainment offer in the street have pushed us to escape from our rooms. Increasingly we want to stay less at home because, lonely, we must front our own thoughts and fears alone. Modern societies don’t know how to do that: they simply flee forward. They run away to the streets.

Oneself problems have come back. The lockdown has put us in front of our own thoughts. But most people are winning this battle because a simple fact: the great sanitarian crisis we’re living has taught us to relativize and give back their value to the essential things. Our family, friends, grandparents — even if they’re in the distance — . Our homes protect the most important things in our lives and become the only effective tool against the coronavirus.

But it’s not all good news when rediscovering our home. Daily coexistence has emerged deep relationship troubles and inequalities camouflaged in the day-to-day frenetic rhythms. Generally, women have infinitely greater workload than men. For a long we’ve hidden behind our hard jobs. But now, living in the same space, we clearly see that women have a huge labor, familiar and emotional burden we don’t. Experimented this evidence, which is more clear than ever, must be the first step to transform our home in a fair equitable space. And then, build the society future.

We’ve discovered another negative side during this crisis: the great generational breach we’ve opened between us. Our elders, now more vulnerable than ever, are the strongest emotional pillars we’ve. Sadly we had forgotten it. They were always there for us, but again, excused and hidden in our fast-paced life, we’ve been not there for them too.

In these social distancing days we should deeply reflect in order to start an intergenerational suture. Market labour doesn’t value them because they aren’t productive, but it doesn’t mean we should get them out of our lives. Our elders built for us the pillars of a more fair, advanced and pleasured society than they lived in their days. We ought to be grateful and return them the favor. Intergenerational suture must be started today.

15' minutes cities planning and non-crowded public transport

Someday streets will be crowded again, but nothing will be the same again — neither after the vaccine finding — . Cities and towns need to be prepared for a more local lifestyle. Self-sufficient communities must be built to be ready to front the next crisis. Groups of people independent from the big cities and from the big supply chains. Guaranteeing local food production, health centers access, co-work places or social spaces within a walking distance. We must design 15-minutes-walking cities where all basics are covered in the short distance. Carefully combining spaciousness and closeness.

Companies and households localization should be redesigned too. Big cities overcrowding trend ought to end, while governments promote uninhabited spaces repopulation. Providing fast internet connection to the whole population, public health access, education and feeding in the smallest localities.

Public transportation has turned a dangerous contagious space. But we cannot solve this problem by promoting private transport, because we would be feeding a long-term problem: the climate change fighting. Architects, designers and planners should squeeze their minds to shape a not-overcrowded public transportation model. Public spaces must expand in order to develop wider public vehicles, promoting bicycles, electric scooters and other non-contaminant individual means of transport.

If a single virus has paralyzed the world, what will climate change trigger? Let’s learn from our mistakes and start acting

The relation between the coronavirus emergence and the climate change evolution is evident, scientists have argued. The progressive temperature increasing is thawing soil layers such as permafrost, where unknown pathogens stay frozen from tens of thousands of years. Also, the human incursion into savage places increases the exposition to virus-carrying animals.

Apart from the pandemic and climate change correlation, it seems clear that our society is highly vulnerable to adverse natural phenomena. For many years we know that climate change can be lethal fur us but we don’t forcefully act against it. Maybe after this traumatic experience we’ll get conscious and start planning a more sustainable present and future.

One of the clear and actionable learnings we need to get from this crisis is that we must not invade wild or sylvan ecosystems. We shouldn’t occupy unexplored zones to build industrial or urbanistic projects. Deforestation, mining, hunting or destructing wildlife habitats give rise to virus accelerated mutation and transmission to humans. We must let pangolins live quietly.

Images from the NASA Earth Observatory show a stark drop in pollution in Wuhan, China, when comparing NO2 levels in early 2019 (top) and early 2020 (bottom) | Source

Back to essentials; revival of deep long-term thinking

From one month to another everything has become fragile, vulnerable and uncertain. Social and economic effects will be very painful, but fortunately, this extreme situation has taught us to relativize. Desirable and accessory have given way to essential. Family, wellbeing, and the self-thoughts reconciliation have temporarily substituted the constant forward run away. This pandemic is conjunctural, but the deep change it has provoked in ourselves will let us value essential things for decades.

Confinement days have pushed us to rethink concepts that we didn’t think for a long time ago. Which kind of society have we build, what’s the world we want to put up to the next generations or if we’re happy with the life we have. These thoughts have two positive aspects behind them. On one hand, questions are the main transformation driver toward a new — and better — situation. On the other, long-term thinking has temporarily substituted the frenetical day-to-day rhythm. And that’s a great advantage, because action without thinking or vision doesn’t drive us to a better world. Simply, it gives us a false feeling of moving forward to somewhere, when we’re really moving in circles.

The fact that this sanitarian crisis is being global entails that a great majority of citizens are in the same situation worldwide: learning how to value essentials and thinking about what future they want to shape. Therefore, we’re in front of a unique opportunity in decades to start a transformation towards a fair society. A more solidarian earth and, in the end, a more human-centered world.

Our earth is a living organism. Everything that impacts a part affects the whole. This virus has been very harmful, but I hope the collective strongness and solidarity will make the next transformations a positive effect for everyone.

We are waves of the same sea, leaves of the same tree, flowers of the same garden.

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