Looking forward/backward

Some thoughts from Matt Webb about the shape of the post-lockdown future once it comes to pass:

Even if we don’t get another lockdown for 10 years, the fact it’s a maybe means that our behaviour will change to account for the possibility.

So I wonder about the long-term effects not of lockdown itself, but the continuous risk of lockdown. Like, will you book a holiday for 6 months time, or will you book simply the option to go somewhere? Would you ever start a business that had a reliance on in-person meetings, or a supply chain that wasn’t tolerant to an unexpected 3 month stop? Of course not. How do you invest in friendships? Do you ever move far away from ageing parents if there’s a risk that planes won’t fly – or does distance no longer matter when you wouldn’t be able to meet in person anyway?

But then, others have a different take on what’s coming our way:

Pretty soon, as the country begins to figure out how we “open back up” and move forward, very powerful forces will try to convince us all to get back to normal. (That never happened. What are you talking about?) Billions of dollars will be spent on advertising, messaging, and television and media content to make you feel comfortable again. It will come in the traditional forms — a billboard here, a hundred commercials there — and in new-media forms: a 2020–2021 generation of memes to remind you that what you want again is normalcy. In truth, you want the feeling of normalcy, and we all want it. We want desperately to feel good again, to get back to the routines of life , to not lie in bed at night wondering how we’re going to afford our rent and bills, to not wake to an endless scroll of human tragedy on our phones , to have a cup of perfectly brewed coffee and simply leave the house for work. The need for comfort will be real, and it will be strong. And every brand in America will come to your rescue, dear consumer, to help take away that darkness and get life back to the way it was before the crisis. I urge you to be well aware of what is coming.

Nowadays I keep on running into articles in which the author deploys some variant of Lenin’s remark1 that "There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen."

I can but deploy another oft-cited (and very possibly equally misattributed) curse: "We live in interesting times."

I hope Matt Webb is right, but the hunger from all sides to declare that post-lockdown2 "Business As Usual" is the order of the day is going to be hard to resist.


  1. Sadly I haven’t found a source for it confirming authorship. Given that it’s very likely an English translation of something expressed slightly differently in Russian I suspect that at best it’s a slightly mangled version of the notion as originally expressed. Sit on it for a few decades and who knows, perhaps everyone will be citing it as one of the sayings of Keir Starmer. Or was it Rishi Sunak? Margaret Thatcher? Barbara Castle?3 
  2. The first time, at any rate. Perhaps it’s going to take a bunch of lockdowns over a period of a few years to hammer home the message that Business Is Not As Usual. 
  3. I dunno. Definitely sounds like someone from the pre-Former United Kingdom era, anyway.