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DANA D. KELLEY: Post-pandemic predictions

by Dana D. Kelley | May 8, 2020 at 2:14 a.m.

Change has proven to be a corollary pandemic to coronavirus. It has spread to every aspect of life: the ways we think, feel and behave; the ways we work, shop and eat; the ways our various institutions teach students, treat patients and provide entertainment.

Nothing has been immune to new procedures, processes and programs in the covid-19 world.

Among the natural reactions to such a world-changing event is the inevitable curiosity: Which changes are permanent, and which temporary? Undoubtedly some things will be changed forever, in ways we haven't even fully realized or conceived of yet. Just as certainly, some things will go back to the way they were. All of which provides fertile ground for prognostication on a grand scale.

Perhaps a high dosage of futurology is just the kind of soothing serum we need at this moment, even though--like the original coronavirus models--many forecasts will be utterly and completely wrong. But mistaken or not, speculations on what's now possible and what might happen are sparks for innovative discussions, which lead to inventive enterprise.

In that spirit, and as an exercise in sheltered contemplation, here's a look at a few predictions.

More train travel?

A European study found that one of the covid-19 outbreak's results was a new appreciation for "clean air," the quality of which is significantly affected by transport-related emissions.

Since aviation accounts for 30 times more greenhouse gas emissions than rail, the study authors predict an accelerated shift from planes to high-speed trains in Europe and China.

We've been behind the curve here in the U.S. on high-speed rail for some time. And despite an exceedingly rich railroad heritage, with tons of track still connecting small towns to regional hubs, train travel simply hasn't been able to gain traction.

It's an amazingly economical and efficient way to move people. New thinking on passenger trains could result in a two-prong revolution serving both long-distance travelers and local commuters: a high-speed rail interstate system and short-route service around rural economic centers.

Blended learning

A lot of people thought the college and university model was broken before this pandemic was a whisper out of Wuhan, and the sudden shift to universal remote learning has only served to confirm the need for progressive change in higher ed.

Once only considered primarily as a new revenue stream to supplement certain schools or programs within a university, online education is predicted to become central to institutional strategic planning.

That would be a welcome sea change for an industry drowning in student debt, and one worth watching with bated breath.

Drive-in movies

Some futurists foresee a revival for drive-in theaters as a way people can get together for an activity like watching movies, but also maintain some separation.

Plans were being floated in Pittsburgh to develop pop-up drive-in theaters if coronavirus restrictions last through summer, canceling things like Little League baseball and Independence Day celebrations.

In North Salem, N.Y., a high school got creative and plans to use a drive-in theater for graduation so seniors who lost their sports, prom and awards programs will at least get to put on a cap and gown at a live event.

Students will decorate their cars and can stand up through sunroofs to receive their diplomas, which will be delivered by the superintendent deploying a 6-foot retractable arm device.

Ruralpolitan renaissance

More people may opt out of living in densely populated urban areas, say some forward-engineering forecasters. Accelerated trends in telemedicine and working from home have created new visions and new values in city dwellers about relocating to nearby countrysides.

Implications could be huge and transformative. Eliminating a 45-minute daily commute equates to 10 weeks of additional personal time over the course of a year if working from home. Commercial real estate, particularly, might face serious repurposing if telecommuters multiply en masse.

And rural broadband infrastructure and access will require renewed focus at the federal and state government levels to allow ruralpolitan residents the necessary connectivity for all their online requirements.

Touchy-feely taboo

We've now gone weeks without handshaking and hugging of people outside immediate family.

Some social scientists are speculating those old habits won't return. What non-touching gestures (bowing, nodding with hands clasped, Vulcan hand salute, etc.) might replace them is ripe for conjecture.

We've embraced virtual meetings for ourselves and gotten used to seeing guests and interviewees on news broadcasts beaming in from their homes. This has exposed not only the trouble and travel required for in-person meetings, but also the limitations of small screen devices.

Predictions of much larger screens--even wall-sized--becoming standard home appliances in a more teleconnected world no longer seem so far-fetched.

Got predictions?

History and precedent teach us that, under similar circumstances in the past, most prognosticators fared poorly. Predictions are, at best, food for thought and not wisdom to bank on.

But our appetites for imagination are voracious just now, so if you have your own predictions, share them!

In the end, maybe the best and last word on all this belongs to Yogi Berra (whether or not he actually said this attributed quote): "It's difficult to make predictions, especially about the future."


Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.

Editorial on 05/08/2020


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