You don’t have to look very far to see how quickly innovation changes our world. The greatest generation saw the advent of credit cards, power steering, and transistor radios. Baby Boomers remember the arrival of electronic fuel injection, audio cassettes, and an oral vaccine for polio. Gen Xers witnessed the emergence of the worldwide web (www), which has become a defining feature of modern life. Millennials and Gen Z saw the arrival of smartphones, social media, and video gaming competitions.1, 2, 3
Sometimes change is gradual. Other times – like today – it occurs at an accelerated pace. As the coronavirus intersects with technology, we’re seeing a variety of innovations. Some may change life in small ways, others could transform the way we live and work.
Here are a few objects and practices that may be subject to change:
- Saying hello. Traditional forms of greeting are rapidly becoming outdated. There is no question it feels odd not to shake hands when introduced to someone, but safe social distancing makes it necessary. The Emily Post Institute offered some suggestions:
“Greetings that involve touching are still not recommended at this time, so perfect your waves (you know, your ‘professional wave’, your ‘zoom-meeting wave’, your ‘I-love-you-Grandma wave’, your ‘I-haven’t-seen-you-and-I’m-trying-so-hard-not-to-hug-you wave’) and use your tone of voice to match the occasion.”4
- Touching screens. Touchscreens are everywhere: airline kiosks, office building directories, ATMs, and gas pumps, just to name a few. They have made many tasks easier and more convenient. However, concerns about cleanliness and germ-passing have been amplified by the coronavirus. Now, it’s likely touchless technology will replace touchscreens in public venues, reported Patrick Seitz of Investor’s Business Daily.5
In the interim, people may begin to rely on smartphone apps, personal touchscreen pens, or individual touchscreen protectors to avoid touching touchscreens, reported David Muhlbaum and Kyle Woodley of Kiplinger.5, 6
- Just-in-time production. When it was first developed, just-in-time (JIT) production was hailed as a brilliant system that maximized output and efficiency, making companies more competitive. The pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of lean manufacturing and organizational streamlining.7
“We have discovered that our supply chains were not robust at all and far too finely tuned…We are out of inventory on emergency supplies, drugs, medical equipment, cleaning supplies and, yes, the ubiquitous toilet paper. Our supply chains are failing, and production is slow to respond,” reported Rich Weissman on March 20 in Supply Chain Dive. We may see companies begin to hold more inventory and build supply chains that emphasize domestic suppliers.8
- Closing offices. From cubicles to hot-desking to community workspaces, open-plan offices were intended to foster collaboration, build relationships, and lower construction costs, among other benefits. Prior to the pandemic, some companies had discovered open offices didn’t deliver the benefits promised.9
Now, with the arrival of coronavirus, open offices may become obsolete, reported Geoffrey James of Inc. “Because open plan designs make social distancing impossible, companies that don't implement universal Work from Home will be forced to re-implement private offices or, at least, rebuild the cubicle farms, which provide at least some barrier to the spread of disease.9, 10
- Pursuing multiplanetary life. Okay, the potential for public space travel has little to do with the coronavirus, other than the timing of the most recent launch, but it is intriguing. The May 2020 NASA/Space X Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station could open space to everyone. Citizens of the world may be able to orbit the Earth, and travel to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.11
They may find automated spacecraft in the great beyond, too. Donald Goldsmith and Martin Rees of Scientific American reported, “People venturing into space are fragile: They require a continuous supply of oxygen, water, food, and shelter. They must endure long intervals of weightlessness…And their loss, when it occurs, casts a pall over our would-be joy of identifying with their exploration. In contrast, automated spacecraft require only a power supply. They cost far less than humans do, and we know how to improve them every year. And, if they fail, we lose only dollars and scientific results.”12
As we weather the changes that accompany the coronavirus, it may be beneficial to consider an idea from a recent article in The Economist, which reported:13
“With the world in upheaval, enterprising minds are already whirring…[believing] that social changes accelerated by the crisis, such as food delivery, telemedicine, and online education, will eventually generate lucrative business opportunities. They will also expect the economic slump to wipe out incumbents, muting competition, and freeing up space and manpower...”
13 https://www.economist.com/business/2020/05/16/creative-destruction-in-times-of-covid (or go to https://peakcontent.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/Peak+Documents/Aug_2020_TheEconomist-Creative_Destruction_in_Times_of_COVID-Footnote_13.pdf)
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