Elizabeth Currid-Halkett on how we’ll remember the coronavirus pandemic

Our values have already changed because of the pandemic. And hopefully we won’t forget. …

It took a global pandemic and stay-at-home orders for 1.5 billion people worldwide, but something is finally occurring to us: The future we thought we expected may not be the one we get.

We know that things will change; how they’ll change is a mystery. To envision a future altered by coronavirus, Quartz asked dozens of experts for their best predictions on how the world will be different in five years.

Below is an answer from Elizabeth Currid-Halkett. She’s a professor at the University of Southern California Price School of Public Policy and the author of three books on the intersection of culture, economics, and class divides. 

In five years, when we look back at the time of the coronavirus pandemic, it will not simply be looking at the disease. We will remember the alarming rise in the number of infections, the economic free fall, the stock market crash, the double-digit unemployment figures. This time will be remembered for the killing of George Floyd and the massive protests against police brutality that ensued in thousands of cities around the world. It will be marked by the Supreme Court ruling that protects the LGBTQ community under the Civil Rights Law. We will also remember how our leaders handled and mishandled the crises of the time. Whom did we admire?  In whom could we instill our trust? (I feel lucky to live in California.)

We have facts, figures, and information to document the time, but for me, I think it will be hard to shake the poignancy and diversity of emotions so many of us have experienced over these past several months. Anxiety and grief over the death toll, knowing people who were sick, who died. Deep sadness in the wake of George Floyd’s death, but also real hope that things might finally change. Elation that our LGBTQ community will be given equal rights. Fear for our friends’ jobs and our local businesses. We will remember how much we missed our family and friends with whom we can’t socialize, incidental hugs, and crowded, buzzing restaurants. We will remember how hard it is to show a smile through a face mask. We may even have missed going to work.

What stands out to me is that one doesn’t go through these experiences and have the same priorities on the other side. The stock market highs, the unemployment lows, and the consumer and media environment pre-coronavirus were not so different from previous Gilded Ages. But the trappings of pre-Covid life—flouting one’s privilege and lavish life on Instagram, excessive consumerism, self-obsessing on social media, too much time on our phones, snarky opinion pieces—feel so alien to the things in life that actually matter. I hope, and I believe, that in five years, we will focus more on human relationships not stuff, the importance of all human beings and their rights, and the ways in which we can be a better society working together, despite our differences. In the midst of all of the pain and suffering of the coronavirus, we have seen our fellow humans mobilize, stick up for what’s right, show bravery, and take care of one another in the most profound and prosaic ways. We know what matters in life, and I hope we don’t forget.

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