This article appeared in the March 13, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Coronavirus, ‘social recalibration,’ and where that may lead

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
A woman walks through the empty international terminal at LAX airport in Los Angeles March 11, 2020, amid reports of the coronavirus.

Monitor staffers were chatting Friday morning about possible effects of the coronavirus crisis on an internal message board. One mentioned a phrase that described what they were talking about: “social recalibration.”

Daily life is being upended on an unprecedented scale to help slow COVID-19 down. Offices, schools, and stadiums are closing.

This recalibration is a massive experiment in society adapting new habits. Might it lead to some permanent change?

Take business travel. Some is surely essential. But a rise in teleconferences could show what trips aren’t worth it. What’s the point of flying in, meeting in an airport conference room, and then flying right back out?

Meanwhile, lots of employees are about to get their first extended experience in telecommuting. Where culture emphasizes long office work hours, such as Japan, this could be an eye-opener. In the U.S. it could lead to permanent alteration of traffic patterns in gridlocked cities such as Boston.

Around the world much of higher education is suddenly moving online. This almost certainly will lead to equally sudden advances in the science of virtual education.

Currently these things are happening as society rallies to fight an ominous, imminent threat. But they could lead to emissions-curbing recalibrations that help society fight another ominous threat that moves more slowly: climate change.

“We need to find new values – values of simple experience, of friendship,” Dutch futurist Li Edelkoort said in a provocative article in Quartz last week. “It might just turn the world around for the better.”

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This article appeared in the March 13, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 03/13 edition