Michael: How do you think the world will change?
D.A. Xiaolin Spires: I was listening to The World Ahead podcast on “Viral acceleration: Tech in the time of coronavirus” and I remember they said something to the likes of (and I’m paraphrasing here): in economic upswings, technology is created and in recessions, technology is adopted. I haven’t delved into the research that would support this adage, but it does seem that we have implemented some technology for these exceptional times (perhaps slowly becoming “the next normal” times?) that would have otherwise remained somewhat fringe or at least less prevalent.
Food delivery services (UberEats) and meal kit services (Hello Fresh, Sun Basket, etc.) have become more widespread. While meal kits have been criticized for greater plastic waste, one study has shown that they save on greenhouse gas emissions and have a smaller carbon footprint than grocery store purchases. While I think it’s hard to project so far into the future about the greater adoption of meal kit services, we can imagine a future where capacities of grocery shopping are limited to what you need that day and no further—efficiencies to limit food waste at the consumer level. No more throwing out five avocados that have all gone bad!
Personally, I still enjoy strolling down market aisles, encountering new food products you otherwise wouldn’t know about—and the social and leisurely aspect of it all, even as friends have confided in me, “Going to the supermarket feels like a war zone.” I do think new practices of food distribution may continue to crop up even as the pandemic settles down. It might feel less like a war zone, but some people might still want to hunker down in their bunkers.
As we hole up in quarantine, I personally have been in Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, applauding, giving thumbs up and raising hands with a click of a button. Our relationship with screens has grown even stronger. Almost everyone I see is mediated by these pixels and the laptop has really been my social portal, transporting me, acting as a salon in which friends and I connect, drinking mismatched drinks from nonmatching glasses. This does mean less carbon emissions from driving to restaurants and pubs. But, I’m not sure how long this will last beyond the pandemic’s duration. If you assume that there will be a pandemic like this year after year, then maybe such camera-based tête-à-tête’s will come to stay. We can clink our glasses against the frame of our laptops, smiling as we say, “Cheers!”
But, I really do think the pull to meet in person is strong. It’s not just about sharing a drink and the moment, but sometimes it really is about the atmosphere, the din of a dark bar, the balancing on a stool as you sip a cocktail next to an old friend. The passing of napkins and olives. Patting a buddy on the back and hugging.
I think the world will change, but I think some institutions have a lot of traction and are very human.
—April 28, 2020