Winter is coming: 10 must-haves for quarantine survival

This summer, as we broke out of our quarantine cocoons, we all became nature enthusiasts as we sought out wide-open spaces. The air was sweet and social distancing was easy. But as the leaves are changing, so is the COVID case count trend line — and not for the better. Seeing the Wall in the north signals the worst, and we must be ready for it. Like any epic sequel, we have learned a thing or two since facing the last big bad. Consider last winter’s self-isolation a practice round. This time, you’re going to be ready. With this survival kit, you can stay healthy all winter long, body, mind, and soul.

Body

Your physiological well-being is tier one on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Here are three things beyond sheltering in place that will keep you healthy this winter.

1. Roborock

If the pandemic has showed us nothing else, hygiene and health go hand-in-hand. The Roborock S6 MaxV robot vacuum and mop literally does all the dirty work for you by keeping your floors gleaming. With the bad germs gone, you can fully enjoy the Great Indoors.

2. Fitbod

Whether you love working out or hate it, Fitbod really does fit any user. It generates custom workouts based on (1) how often you want to workout, (2) your available equipment, and (3) your freshest muscle groups. You can also adjust the suggest workout modules as you go, so it can truly fit the time you have available and your fitness level. Because of Fitbod, I exercise more than I ever have before: three times a week for 20 minutes. My mother would be proud.

3. Baldor

Baldor is a New York restaurant supplier that started delivering direct-to-consumer at the start of the pandemic. It’s higher quality than Whole Foods, yet less expensive. You can buy European, preservative-free canned tuna and Hudson Valley farm CSA boxes. Their “peak season” and “local” buttons point you to the freshest food available and help you support local businesses. The minimum order size is $200, which isn’t hard to meet if you freeze some of your order. Watch out for item sizes — some SKUs are definitely intended for high-volume restaurants!

Now that you’ve got a plan for your physical health, it’s time think about your mind. (So meta.)

Mind

Boredom ranks as the most common quarantine complaint. But your livingroom doesn’t need to be where creativity goes to die. Below are sources of stimulation and tools that provide some of the interactive flexibility that you had when working in-person.

4. An Ipad + Apple Pencil

When you’re trying to map out an idea or ideate with a team, sometimes you just need a whiteboard. Using tools like Microsoft OneNote or Google Jamboard can enable visual collaboration in real time. And if you want to draw things other people will recognize, mouse scribbles just don’t cut it. An Apple Pencil instantly gives you the same articulation as a whiteboard.

5. Zoom virtual backgrounds

This may seem like a small one, but I think I’ve been around the world and back with all the creative backgrounds I’ve seen and employed. It keeps viewers stimulated in a time of screen fatigue.

6. Books

Remember those? They are what people read before online news and Netflix. Take the opportunity this winter to rediscover what’s on your book shelf, join a book club, or renew your library card. And if you’re not afraid of endless screen time, the New York Public library has an extensive e-book collection.

Now that your body and mind are feeling like well-oiled machines, it’s time to think about the things that make life worth living, the things that feed your soul.

Soul

As I’m sure you learned in the first quarantine, operating at your best takes more than just a healthy body and engaged mind. Below are three things that nourish the soul.

7. WakingUp app

Bestselling author Sam Harris created a guided meditation platform called Waking Up. Through it, you can both practice meditation, and learn the theory behind the practice. It offers a 30-day free trial beginners course that introduces many types of mindfulness meditation, along with access to other mindfulness content. If there’s anything we all need after the crazy year of 2020, it’s help clearing our minds and centering ourselves.

Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others. 

– Sam Harris, best-selling author and neuroscientist

8. Pod buddies

Introvert or extrovert, relationships are rejuvenating. I almost forgot people came in three dimensions until I started meeting a pod body every other week. And now, the world feels a bit more human.

9. A furry pet

If you haven’t yet joined the animal adoption bandwagon, it’s not too late! Even the CDC recommends pet ownership for its physical, emotional, and interpersonal benefits.

The trifecta

There’s one product that offers physical engagement, mental stimulation, and soul-stirring joy rolled all into one.

10. Oculus Quest

The Oculus Quest‘s Beat Saber offers immersive entertainment, that gets you moving and brings the inexplicable soul highs of electronic music. With the Quest’s new wireless capabilities, it’s a huge upgrade from the Oculus Rift.

Ready Player One was closer than we thought, and with the state of the world in 2020, it’s perfect timing.

Ready for Round 2

Tie a bandana around your head and put on some boxing wraps, because you are ready for the next round of lock down. God speed.

NY children solve Halloween’s deadweight loss problem

Every year economists cringe at the “deadweight loss” of Christmas gifts — the monetary loss that comes from spending more on presents than people value them. And the level of deadweight loss can be horrifying for Halloween trick-or-treaters. Nerds given to chocolate lovers. And saltwater taffy just thrown in the trash. But a solution has arisen from the hallways of NYC public schools.

The youth of New York recognized the importance of a robust secondary market for Halloween candy. Markets began to formalize a decade ago, following one Brooklyn classroom’s trading flows making national news. Soon after, the New York Candy Exchange (NYCE), located in Tribeca, opened its hallways for trading. For the last five years we’ve seen heavy trading the day after Halloween, tapering off into the second week of November.

While this year has made in-person trading difficult, hall monitor Sally McCoy of P.S. 32 remains optimistic. “We’ve seen extensive preparation in primary markets to ensure continued candy supply. With this encouragement, secondary markets are displaying a real appetite to continue trading.” To reduce in-person exposure, both the NYCE and the Chicago Candy Exchange (CCE) unveiled new digital exchanges, which debuted for initial futures trading last week. Savvy children have started creating options markets for candy that doesn’t exist yet.

In one-week options with November 1 maturities, Snickers is the clear Halloween favorite. But not everyone is sweet on this option. We spoke to Johnny “Mars-slayer” Malone of P.S. 46, who had decided to short Snickers this year. “Normally I do a straddle trade, going long on full-sized Snickers and short on minis. But this year, I think it’s a bubble. The writing is on the wall.” Yes, Johnny read the notices on the lunchroom wall about peanut safety.

With potential peanut regulations looming on the horizon from the New York Board of Education, Johnny feels confident in his position.

The number of Almond Joys (ALJ) needed to buy one Snickers (SNK) is forecast to reach an all-time high this Halloween.

We reached out to Mars Inc. for comment on peanut regulation, and the Investor Relations Officer had this to say: “Everyone cares about the safety of children, but what we need is smart regulation… We recognize the frothiness of the market in these turbulent times, but this spike is supported by strong nougat fundamentals.”

But the market can stay irrational longer than Johnny can stay solvent. Fortunate for Johnny, he’s successfully negotiated favorable margin limits with Mrs. Malone, on the agreement that Johnny maintains his allowance reserves at 200% of his original trade. Johnny sealed the deal with a clause allowing Mrs. Malone to keep 10% of all discounted primary market purchases made on November 1st.

Rising like the phoenix: The rebirth of NYC restaurants

“We had to keep reinventing the business every week to two weeks.”

Caitlyn Morrissey, store manager. Source: The New York Times

New York small businesses have seen the full financial force of the pandemic, and restaurants have born the brunt of it. Roughly 7,000 NYC small businesses have shut down permanently since the start of the pandemic. The New York Times reported that a third of these small business closures are restaurants. So when I see a tattooed old man out with his DeWalt circular saw and 2x4s procured from the Flatiron Home Depot two blocks away, building outdoor seating as structurally sound as any residential building, my hat goes off to him. This post is a homage to those who have recreated the restaurant.

Reinvention: Not just by restaurant owners

We’ve heard various narratives about the “multiplier effect” of a job. Once one person is employed, they have money to spend that helps employ someone else. The same is true of restaurants setting up outdoor seating. From local contractors to florists to set designers looking for very off-Broadway work, skilled builders have redeployed expertise for the local restaurant. Design firms like Rockwell Group and Pink Sparrow have mocked up modular, prefabricated platforms, barriers, and parklets — which they may make available as DIY kits. And of course, most scrappy New York restaurateurs literally scrapped something together.

Best of NYC outdoor seating

In celebration of NYC creativity, we’ve identified a few outdoor dining “winners” who categorically stood out.

Most creative social distancing: Cafe du Soleil, French cafe, Upper West Side

The Covid bubble is real.

Best outdoor indoor seating: Kyuramen, ramen house, Flushing

Am I on the outside looking in, or on the inside looking out?

Best use of public infrastructure: Hudson Clearwater, American restaurant, West Village

Public seating upgrade or restaurant oeuvre, you decide.

Most European-inspired: Le Zie, Italian restaurant, Chelsea

The closest thing to a vacation you’ll get this year.

Most authentic: Smithfield Hall, sports bar, Flatiron

Sometimes, all you need is a nice, cool pint.

Mo’ seating, mo’ permanent

It’s not just restaurants that are allowed to apply for street seating —it’s anyone with a ground-floor store front. And it’s not just a pandemic “perk” now to dine outside. Our mayor wants to embrace our new sidewalk cafe seating year-round. While our city is evolving out of necessity, some of it will be for the better. Especially for all the new puppy owners who can bring their four-legged family members out for lunch and dinner.

On a personal note, it’s great to see the Keynsian multiplier in full effect, increasing the velocity of money and driving trickle-out economics. As in we’re trickling out into the streets.

The Quarantini: A recipe for the times

Source: New York Post

Since being locked away, we’ve all had to spent a little more time in the kitchen. With a bit of experimentation, I’ve captured the quarantine experience in a recipe that redefines mocktail: The Quarantini.

Ingredients

Heavy amount social distancing
5 new face masks
4 electronic devices
3 Netflix series
2 new app downloads
1 new hobby
1 new subscription service
1 adopted pet
1 bicycle
A dash of social isolation
Sourdough starter
A gallon of hand sanitizer
Unlimited social unrest

Optional:
1 bucket of coronas
1 new escape plan

Directions

To gather all your ingredients, first walk outside. Realize you are in a real-life I am Legend scene. Walk back inside. Embrace the “Spaceship you” and decide to become a better version of yourself. Download one fitness and one mindfulness app. Adopt a puppy. Reignite your love of puzzles with a 1000-piece monthly subscription box. Read blogs about whether your sourdough baby is normal. Add a dash of social isolation that sinks you deeper into your four devices. Binge your favorite three Netflix series. Decide you’re ready to go outside, with a heavy dose of social distancing. Realize that spring fashion is all about mask fashion now. Give the evil eye to anyone not wearing a mask, making loud comments about how some people don’t know what “six feet” means until people sheepishly back off or become enraged. Stir in increasing amounts of social unrest, until the street protests are daily, and hand sanitizer flows freely as city budgets dry up.

Realize that this is bigger than you and requires systems change. Break out your optional buck of coronas on the rocks, best enjoyed in makeshift outdoor seating. Mix a dash of homelessness as shelters become less safe and the eviction moratorium ends. Hatch your emergency escape plan in case the city loses its je-ne-sais-quoi. And finally, watch a man in a beret cycle by, playing gentle french music from his speakers, and remember why you love New York. Pop open one more corona and pour one for your hommies.

Tricked into mindfulness by Twitter

Source: The Week

A flurry of urgency

It goes without saying that there is a lot going on these days that feels both urgent and important. In the times of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter, time feels more scarce, yet there is more to absorb, digest, and take action on.

As I increased my news and Twitter intake, I realized the social media siren was calling me not just to engage, but to be mindful of how I engage. I needed to reinstate my mindfulness practice. This raised a question of seeming contradictions: Could Twitter train my mindfulness muscle?

The original engagement engine

Your brain is the original engagement engines. It hunts for things to keep your interest, presenting thoughts until it hits the jackpot of something you’re willing to latch onto. Just like a Twitter feed.

Unfortunately, our brains seem to think engagement is an end unto itself. Optimizing only for engagement crowds out so many other important mental qualities and states, like peace, self-control, and clarity. Yet this seems to be the center of gravity for our brains. If left unchecked, our brains can habituate negative engagement like anxiety, anger, or other counter-productive emotions.

What Twitter has in common with mindfulness

If you have ever tried mindfulness, you may have had the experience of thoughts passing you by without you feeling attached to them. Without you *engaging* with them. Scrolling through, without clicking anything, does not count as engagement in the Twitter algorithm. You need to click, like, retweet to register engagement.

But what about when you read a toxic comment thread? Is there a way to engage mindfully even when it sets you off?

Mindful engagement

A strong mindfulness practice does not mean you will be shielded from things you consider unpleasant. The important thing in Twitter and mindfulness is that you actively choose when and how to engage. Developing a mindfulness habit means even when you engage, you do not latch on indefinitely to a thought. You can release the thought when you choose, before your brain escalates into a grappling match. You can keep scrolling for the next idea, thoughtfully integrate the good ones, and move on at will.

Embracing new possibilities

There is a way to be proactive without being over-reactive. Sometimes you can let go of the struggle. Letting go will help you, whether you want to observe what is useful and move on, or take notes and artfully act.

In this moment we can’t let the world pass us by. Neither can we let it consume us. We can and must carve a path forward on our terms. Because a mind is a terrible thing to waste — especially on negative engagement.

The shape of COVID-19: NYC’s testing data to date

On the eve of Phase 2 reopening in NYC, New Yorkers have a lot to look back on and a lot to look forward to. Since the start of the pandemic, between 8 and 11% of confirmed and suspected NYC cases ended in death. At the same time, the total number of confirmed new cases was only 81 on June 19th and has been declining across the city. So as we ready ourselves for reopening, we need to take a look at the trends to answer that burning question: is a haircut worth the risk just yet?

COVID-19 data. Source: nyc.gov

One month ago: A tail of three cities

One month ago, when Mayor Cuomo extended NY “PAUSE” and postponed Phase 1 reopening to May 28th, New York got a signal that we were still in the danger zone. But why? Our R0, the rate of contagion spread, was consistently below 1 (the critical threshold). A look at the data shows that quality of our data and, thus, our ability to accurately estimate the true R0, varied widely by neighborhood.

Comparing just three different parts of the city — Chelsea/NoMad, Flatbush, and East New York — points to very different testing trends. These neighborhoods could be fairly described as high, medium, and low income, respectively. While Chelsea and NoMad (zip code 10001) saw the total number of tests per day rising from April 1 to May 20, Flatbush and East New York (zip codes 11203 and 11239) actually saw their daily testing rate *fall* during the same period. Although the number of positive cases dropped steadily over time in all three areas, the rate of change (indicated by the line graphs) for testing and positive test cases trend downward together in Flatbush and East New York. This suggests under-reporting of cases. The Chelsea and Nomad rates of change, by contrast, show an acceleration of testing and declining growth in positive diagnoses. With bigger sample sizes and more data points, we can confidently say Chelsea and Nomad had falling R0s.

Since Phase 1: More universal testing and better results

Today, looking back on the two weeks since Phase 1 began, there are sustained signs of improvement. Across our three sample zip codes, we saw total case levels flatten while total testing continued to increase, giving us confidence that our R0 was truly falling across the different locales.

Chelsea/Nomad, Flatbush, and East New York all saw significant growth in testing during Phase 1. As total tests grew, the total positive case curve continued to flatten. Source: James Wallace’s analysis of of gov.nyc health data

The data indicate that targeted interventions in areas like East New York meaningfully boosted the rate of testing. Whereas testing rates hovered around 30 per day for all of April and May, for one day in June, shortly after Phase 1 reopening, testing jumped to about 150.

These signs bode well. So should we be encouraged? On balance, yes. Even in our biggest recent gatherings, the Black Lives Matter protests, protesters have had each other’s backs, wearing face masks and gloves and offering hand sanitizer. There may be pockets of regression as Gen Zers flock back to bars sans masks, but with new cleaning and hygiene norms everywhere, I remain cautiously optimistic that our city will heal.

Today: Still worth taking a different “PAUSE”

Despite the positive recent trends, the aftershock will be felt for a long time. Nearly as many New Yorkers have died from COVID-19 as live in the 10001 zip code. But very few of these deaths were in Chelsea and Nomad. Flatbush experienced hundreds of deaths, and East New York experienced seven times the number of deaths per 100,000 that Chelsea and Nomad did.

Source: nyc.gov

It is worth pausing to think through what exactly needs to change in order for the darkness of a pandemic case map to not reflect the darkness of neighborhood residents’ skin.

Source: nyc.gov

Your Reality Checklist

Five new realities and seven mindset shifts to get you work-ready

Source: The Cowl

Dear graduates,

You have amassed incredible book smarts in the last four years. Now it is time for you to build professional smarts. For me, as a first-generation Jamaican American, I didn’t have many examples in my private life of how to navigate the professional settings I ended up in — finance and strategy consulting firms. I had to learn that hustle, diligence, and many other things that I thought I’d learned in school all look quite different in a workplace. Below are five key differences I observed, and seven mindset shifts I had to undergo to effectively adapt.

Five new realities of how school differs from the workplace

1. The role of analytical skills

In school I gained the impression that I could think, plan, or brute-force my way into almost any opportunity I wanted. In retrospect, these tactics worked well because I was either undertaking something entrepreneurial, like starting a student group, or operating within a well-defined system, like a class scoring rubric. Most workplaces, by contrast, are somewhere in between. Systems are loosely-defined, with unspoken rules and silent expectations. Consequently, communication skills and other “soft skills”, like people skills and team collaboration, are more “make or break” than the analytical skills you learn at school.

2. The belief in objectivity

In academic courses, every attempt is made to set an objective grading rubric, to pre-define standards of what “right” is and what “good” looks like. While some companies try to come up with a trajectory map that emulates this specificity of standards, I have never seen one that wasn’t wide open to interpretation. Phrases like “produces consistent, high-quality work” on qualitative rating systems where the highest score is “exceeds expectations” are typical. These are vagaries layered on moving targets. Thus, it becomes your responsibility to manage not only your own performance and development, but also how you are perceived.

3. The idea  — and relevance — of a “right answer”

When a teacher poses a question to a class, more often than not there is a right answer ready to hand. Not so in business. More likely than not, the question is being asked *because* there is no ready answer. In strategy consulting (which is essentially project-based problem-solving for companies), I’ve found there can be multiple, equally valid answers to a question. Which answer you should lead with is context-dependent. The expansive number of unknowns also means you can expect to be wrong more often in the working world. In finance, peers often told me “as long as I’m right more than I’m wrong, I’m in good shape” — and these were peers putting other people’s money and, thus, livelihoods on the line with their decisions. Still, they were confident enough to take action and take responsibility for the consequences.

4. How you engage with authorities

Without a right answer at the ready, and with a lot of subconscious expectations, many managers struggle to give explicit guidance. Instead, most managers provide general guidance and are prone to make corrections after the fact. It is up to you to figure out what you don’t know you don’t know, so you have a comprehensive understanding of your development areas and how to meet or exceed expectations. This requires you to build rapport with and learn from peers and authorities alike. You build rapport by taking an interest in how they operate and what you should emulate. Figure out how you can make your boss’ life easier and also how to gracefully communicate your and your project’s needs.

5. How you define success

In school, there is a fairly narrow path to “success,” defined by grades and how advanced or complex the subjects you study are. By contrast, career success is deeply individual. Choosing your major in college may seem overwhelming but is finite compared to the unlimited number of career choices you will have. These choices will be multifaceted. You will need to balance your goals, financial needs, passions, and strengths. Rather than be overwhelmed, you simply need to be informed about the implications of each choice for your future opportunities, and to accept that you may not have the exact perfect job all the time. Indeed, a perfect job may be mythical, as no one likes their job all of the time. 

Seven mindset shifts to get “work-ready”

The above differences may sound straightforward on the surface, but they require a number of mental shifts to psychologically prepare for the working world. Below are seven “From / To goals” that will set you on a strong footing for your foray into the working world.

1. Thinking of work tasks as “assignments” Big-picture thinking about team objectives

Rather than thinking of your tasks as things to tick off a list, you need to think carefully about how your work will be used. Questions you might ask yourself include: Who is using what I am making? What will they expect to see? Are there examples or precedents I need to model my work after? How much of this is custom content vs. standard content? How can I simplify things to make this immediately usable or actionable?

2. Perfectionism Growth mindset

Rather than investing an infinite amount of energy into a project, you need to learn to invest the right amount of efforts to get the job done. There is no time to examine every alternative or to leave no stone unturned. This means you have to let go of any fear of being imperfect or wrong, as you calibrate with and for your team or client.

3. Expecting a roadmap Learning to navigate

While there may be a few examples to learn from that help you make a preliminary plan or guide for your work and career, some aspect of your work will include uncharted territory. You will have to develop the skill of navigating as you go, in a way that progresses your objective as new information becomes available.

4. “Big reveals” Bringing people with you as you produce work

Just working hard won’t necessarily win you appreciation or reward. Hoping people notice your work without sharing your progress or involving others also leaves you at risk of going in the wrong direction. Rather than revealing all your hard work when it’s done, validate your approach with your boss and pick up tips from your peers along the way. Involve your team in your journey.

5. Assuming people think like you Listening to and managing people

Eliminate the word “should” from your vocabulary when thinking about others. Empathy is your most powerful tool for understanding coworkers and managing your boss, your teammates, and other co-workers.

6. Thinking a role is too good or not good enough Focusing on learning and strong execution

Knowing how to execute simpler tasks inside and out means you will be competent enough to teach others and to find efficiencies. Taking on “stretch roles” that are beyond your current experience or knowledge is equally important. Don’t be afraid to take informed risks. Be confident in your capacity to learn, adapt, and step up.

7. Always sticking it out Recognizing if an environment is unhealthy or just a bad fit

Only you know your tolerance-level for unhealthy work environments, which, unfortunately, there is no shortage of. If staying is important to your next professional or financial goal, you may stick out a job with a terrible boss or insane hours for several years. But notice how it’s impacting your sense of confidence and sense of self, and consider if there are alternatives that get you to the same place. And make sure you find a mentor or peer to talk it out with.

With that, class of 2020, I welcome you to the “real world.” I wish you a strong start, many adventures, and the confidence that comes with knowing that all of my friends from school have pretty much found their happy places.

The face of fashion: How face masks became a brand marketing tool

Face masks are now a part of high fashion. Source: Vogue

Every brand knew that spring fashion would look different this year. With most urban centers passing stay-at-home orders to stem coronavirus’ spread, hundreds of thousands of storefronts have closed indefinitely. Disrupted supply chains have limited what brands can produce, and a strong focus on essential shopping has dampened consumer appetite. But even with all of these adversities, the fashion industry has pivoted quickly to offer something people are buying: face masks.

We’ve now seen two waves of high face-mask fashion: the early-responders and the marketing-minded. Early-responders were fast acting in response to our crisis. Many early-mover brands that retooled for face mask-making, like La Ligne and Clare V., prioritized relief efforts by donating to coronavirus charities. Others simply channeled their creative energies, adapted their couture style to make face masks beautiful accessories.

The freshest wave of fashion-mask makers took a little more time to think, and have figured out different “masks as marketing” strategies. High-end designers have introduced matching outfits, with spring patterns and luxurious materials. “Free mask with purchase” has become a hook to drive sales. And branded masks, both for sale and as give-aways, are providing free advertising for masstige and boutique brands alike.

Victoria’s Secret masks provide the PINK brand free advertising. Source: Victoria’s Secret

This industry pivot feels uniquely American. In countries like Korea, where mask wearing was more of a prior norm and more quickly adopted, fashionistas have focused more on eye-makeup than the actual mask aesthetic. America, it seems, is more masterful at driving spending. And looking at our annual ad spend, it’s no wonder: American companies spend 2.7x more on advertising compared to the next biggest spender, China. As they say, it takes money to make money.

The United States leads global marketing spend my a wide margin. Source: Statista

American companies are also exceptionally creative at inventing new market niches. I would have expected Victoria’s Secrets to come up with the provocative mask that looks like lingerie. But Katie May beat them to it.

If lace seems orthogonal to safe face coverage, Katie May begs to differ.

All in all, I tip my protective visor to the fashion industry for getting creative. One of the joys of living in New York is witnessing everyone’s self expression, and right now, the most universal way to do that is through face masks. I’ve collected a few now, with different fabrics, cuts, and patterns. It started out as a search for more comfort, and now, it’s become a statement.

The Zoom serenity prayer

In the new normal of remote work, we are still adapting to the intense amount of screen time that has replaced our in-person interactions. Perhaps you don’t feel like happy hours are as happy when you’re sitting an extra hour at your computer. Or you miss the simple phone calls that have suddenly turned video. For those who empathize, I offer the Zoom serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the Zoom calls I cannot change;
courage to cancel the video calls I do not need;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Boundaries are harder than ever to set in these crazy times, but also more important than ever for our mental health and productivity. Take CGP Grey’s word for it.

Have your own remote work serenity prayer? Please share on Twitter @mbainthecity!

Top five post-COVID-19 predictions

How will COVID-19 leave society changed?

New York’s new normal

Each day as I step outside, keeping at a social distance, I am reminded of how not normal New York City life is right now. Empty sidewalks, save for the homeless and a few runners. Wary looks behind masked faces. Empty roads and fresh air. Supply shortages and long grocery store lines, for those who brave them. A sudden interest in the movie Contagion. This is the new normal. And when this passes, I wonder, what will the new new normal look like? I offer five predictions about how society, government, and individuals will change — or not change, as the case may be:

  1. Niche media will become more mainstream than mass media
  2. Everyone will emerge with a new survival skill
  3. Asthma cases will drop, as the air quality improves with less pollution
  4. Both parties will take the crisis as evidence that their principles are the right ones
  5. Social activism will see a significant jump

I predict these changes, because they are already underway. Here’s what I’ve observed in the last few weeks of quarantine:

1. Niche media will become more mainstream than mass media

John Krasinski and Steve Carell, Some Good News, Episode 1

In the early days of corona virus news, national “reporting” was a loose term — you could read article upon article and learn almost nothing. As the severity of the situation became clear, hand-wavy vagaries just weren’t enough to keep us informed about how to stay safe. My peers and neighbors quickly started relying on a narrower set of localized and trusted sources for the intel we needed on the pandemic. The Daily by the New York Times became the most pervasive, providing a combo of expert advice and front-line reporting. As New York became the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, and no national support emerged, Gothamist emerged as one of the best sources of informative and actionable coverage. They gave locals a source of food security by reporting on Baldor, a restaurant supplier turned direct-to-consumer, with higher quality and better prices than anything on Instacart. The TLDR from national news outlets, by contrast, was just ‘food is getting harder to buy… countries should do something about that.

The same-y-ness, shallowness, and sensationalism of mainstream news has spurred other niche counter-movements in media. Some Good News with John Krasinski has brought the local global, featuring positive COVID-19 stories of hope, solidarity, and recovery from around the country and the world. He’s married curated, hand-made content contributions with global icon pop-ins, notably Steve Carell and Lin Manuel Miranda. At 16 million views for Episode 1, SGN’s popularity has blown every prime time show out of the water. In effect, channels like SGN are making YouTube more mainstream than ABC or CBS.

2. Everyone will emerge with a new survival skill

First quarantine-inspired, homemade bread

All the twenty-somethings of New York have discovered their kitchens, perhaps for the first time, as take-out has become more of a luxury than a norm. “I’m confident we can survive the apocalypse now,” my husband smiled, with a sigh of relief, when our 50-pound flour order arrived from a Queens wholesaler. He made his first-ever homemade bread. I have picked up running and stair climbing in lieu of a gym, and could easily make it to any bridge of the island if needed. All we need now is to take some streaming karate lessons, and we will be ready to kick some zombie butt if a worse kind of outbreak happens.

3. Asthma cases will drop, as the air quality improves with less pollution

U.S. cities with the best and worst air quality, Realtor.com

Few cars on the road and planes in the air doesn’t just mean we can wander the streets and tarmacs unfettered. It means we can breath deep and feel refreshing, mountaintop-quality air, even in the middle of New York City. This can only be positive for children as they develop. As an urban-dweller who developed chronic rhinitis at a young age, I can’t remember what normal breathing feels like. While some argue impaired smelling is a benefit in New York City, I still hope young New Yorkers today continue to reap the benefits of our reprieve from pollution. In a dream world, we would mandate the sunset of combustion engine vehicles and allow only electric vehicles within city limits. I won’t hold my breath for New York to be the vanguard of new clean air policies, but maybe California can pave the way.

4. Both parties will take the crisis as evidence that their principles are the right ones

Massachusetts Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, WGBH

In response to the coronavirus crisis, Republicans and Democrats alike have taken refuge in their respective ideologies. Conservative groups have mobilized to demand that the U.S. re-open the economy, while liberals have reminded us that people *are* the economy. The GOP’s economy-before-people stance has led to a temporary demand for big government, but no significant shift in their social safety net policy stances. Democrats, by contrast, consider this crisis as evidence that our safety net policies are already far too weak. While the 2020 election campaigns are essentially on hold for now, I expect to see renewed campaign efforts in the fall that will amount to a battle of ideologies for what we want post-COVID-19 America to look like.

5. Social activism will see a significant jump

Change.org highlights COVID-19-related petition victories

This crisis has led to a number of spotlights on companies and institutions reaping concentrated benefits while trying to pass on the pandemic’s costs to the larger populations they serve. WeWork is still charging tenants in cities with shelter-in-place orders. Amazon fired a protesting employee who called out unsafe working conditions following a streak of in-warehouse COVID-19 cases. When the stakes are life and dealth, right and wrong become fairly black-and-white. It also gives people more to fight for. We’re seeing more masses of people taking action. Millions have signed petitions through Change.org, and many more are organizing and making their voices heard. I expect this momentum to continue as the aftershocks of the crisis continue to reverberate.

Predictions unfurled

For better or for worse, this crisis will have a long tail, not just through the presence of the virus, but also in how our society is changed by the crisis. The five trends above are already under way, and will build as we adapt and reshape our social systems in the wake of COVID-19.