The world has been turned on its head and how! Everything seems like it’s come to standstill. Markets have crashed, the most powerful countries are clueless and honestly, humanity is having a hard time comprehending the situation. One thing that can be safely concluded, however, is that we’re currently part of a major historic event.
My experience at the agency under Dheeraj Sinha’s mentorship has taught me a bunch of things about analysing situations, using data and arriving at human solutions to problems. The first step of doing this is generally learning the do’s and don’ts’s from similar events. However, while mentoring me on this article, Dheeraj’s premise to me was, “what disrupts the world is not what has already happened in the past. So, while the learnings from the past global crisis can only give a direction, the disruptions of behavior and society will be a result of a lot of factors that actually come together”.
Here is my attempt at contextualising these learnings and accessing their impact on our society:
1) Rise of control
Every terror attack, be it 9/11, the Sri Lanka blasts or even the 2008 Mumbai attack have always resulted in the strengthening of security and surveillance. US Patriot Act, which was signed after the 9/11 attack, allowed for increased surveillance, telephone and email tracking and even accessing banking and credit history. All of this to ease off the fear of terrorism from Americans.
Crisis like these make people okay to trade off privacy for safety. We’ve already seen how people are required to disclose about their movements and the people they’ve come in contact with. A few months ago, what would qualify as privacy intrusion, is now the bare minimum act of cooperation to fight the pandemic. This biometric monitoring, contact tracing is the future we are grudgingly going to accept. So what, if this gives away data about our movement, our behavior like never before, we’ll at least mitigate the possibility of another pandemic!
2) Sensors over touch
Crisis mean hardships. And hardships make humans innovate and reinvent. World War and Great Depression introduced the world to inventions like sanitary napkins, canned food, electric guitar and even some of the most popular board games.
Covid-19 has created enhanced scrutiny on hygiene. People are wary of touching surfaces. In China, while people are using toothpicks to press elevator buttons, research shows how people are consciously using their non-dominant hand to touch surfaces. This behavior of trying to minimise contact is expected lead way for sensors over touch in our everyday life.
3) Regressing to older practices
Hate crime incidents against Muslims spiked after the 9/11 attack. The Islamophobia sentiments increased around the world, especially in the West. The trauma and paranoia of crisis can really leave people ill-willed. In the context of Covid-19, racism against China has already started spreading around the world. In India however, the pandemic can lead to the reinforcement of the hierarchies and class, once again. While it’s true that we’re a society that has practiced untouchability till recently, it’s also true that we were moving in a progressive direction. The pandemic can take us a few steps back. Simply because physical distancing is a luxury in India.
Majority of the population stays in cramped spaces, in slums like Dharavi, where still one toilet is shared by approximately 200 people. It’s a privilege to be able to minimise contact and practice distancing. The paranoia of contagious infections combined with evident inequality can backslide us into the past. The result could be returning to age-old practices of distancing like not allowing them inside the house, not letting them sit on couches, or even keeping separate utensils for them.
While these hypotheses might seem a little far-fetched, but then again, a few months back, even this pandemic was.
(The author is brand strategy associate, Leo Burnett.)