I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fake news and conspiracy theories, particularly the flat Earthers.
Assertion: The Earth is flat.
My answer: Okay but why do we care?
What’s the point? Let’s say you’re right and the Earth is flat. Then what?
Why do you need me to believe that the Earth is flat?
What do we do next? Do I get sworn in? Do I get a little badge? If so, does it have rainbows on it because I like rainbows?
I do have more questions, since we’re talking about it. So the Earth is flat, is the Moon flat too? How about the Sun? How about Mars, is Mars also flat?
Let’s do this! We’re doing it! Let’s talk about flat Mars!
Okay, yeah, now that I believe the Earth is flat I am allowed to know that the Sun and Moon are spheres, as is Mars, but the Earth is flat. We’re special that way.
I’m confused though. I’m a baby in this club and I’m still learning. If the Earth is flat, why are there seasons? Why couldn’t I see the edge whenever I hiked up a mountain or flew in a plane? What’s going on during lunar and solar eclipses?
Gosh, I do ask a lot of questions, don’t I?
I just need to remember that the enemy here is the big lie that the Earth is a sphere. I need to focus my attention on what is important, which is that the Earth is flat, and people need to know the truth.
This is why everyone loves pizza so much, because whenever they see a pizza they are reminded of the soul-deep truth that all good things are flat and round.
Ugh, I keep getting distracted when what I really need to be thinking about is that the Earth is flat. People who think they’re so, so smart keep lying and trying to make us think the Earth is a sphere.
But wait, why would they do that? Why is it so important to them to make me think the Earth is a sphere when now I know that it’s flat?
I’m not very good at this, but let me try...
They’re... making money off it!
And that’s how they retain all the wealth and power, because as long as I believe the Earth is a sphere then it’s like a magic spell.
Unfortunately, I guess I have failed at holding on to the belief that the Earth is flat. The image of a big, round, spherical Earth is stuck in my mind and nothing seems to be able to shake it loose.
Nothing seems to have changed though?
Earlier today, I thought the Earth was a sphere, and then I read a bunch of articles that someone showed me, and I understood that it was really flat the whole time. But then I started asking too many questions and getting myself all confused, and now I think it’s round again. I don’t know what to think!
But in the meantime... Nothing seems to have changed. I still live in the same place, I’m still married to the same person, I still have the same job. It turns out that whether I believed something or not didn’t really make a difference in the grand scheme of things.
How can something feel so important and mean so little?
It’s actually a little depressing. Now that I can’t really remember why it made so much sense to me that the Earth was flat, there isn’t anything all that exciting going on. It turns out that my regular spherical-Earth life is a little more dull and boring than before.
I wonder what else I could do with all that energy?
I could research something else. Maybe I could put together my family tree and talk to some of my relatives about genealogy and family history. Maybe I could join in a citizen science project. Maybe I could memorize an epic poem. Or write one.
What did I do with all my time before I started reading about how the Earth is flat? I can’t hardly remember. That would be like asking what I did before there was social media, or before smartphones, or before the internet.
Actually wait, I do remember that. We used to go to Blockbuster and spend an hour picking out a video tape to bring home, only to realize that it was already checked out and then have to pick something else. It’s good to have all that free time.
Oh, and we used to talk on the phone a lot. I had a bunch of friends I would talk to on the phone for an hour or more. Sometimes we would walk around town together, or hang out at each other’s apartments and sit on the floor and play cards and board games.
I used to sit on the couch and knit and crochet and do cross-stitch while my roommates watched movies.
It’s not like we never talked about conspiracy theories. I remember once we were going on a road trip, and we stopped by our friend’s place to pick him up, and his roommate’s stoner girlfriend started telling us that cigarettes are so addictive because the tobacco companies put trace amounts of chocolate in them. Okay, thanks for telling me! Someone else told me that Carmex is addictive and once you start using it, your lips adapt to it and you can’t stop. Oh, and blue M&M’s cause cancer.
That’s what’s missing. Now that I’ve stopped believing the Earth is flat, I don’t have any interesting stories to share. Story is what’s missing. It seems like none of my friends or family want to talk to me anymore because they weren’t in the mood to hear about the Earth being flat. Who am I going to talk to now? Who’s going to tell me stories now?
I sure wish I had something interesting to talk about, and someone to talk about it with.
I have to know. After all this, have you set up a desk yet?
Desks have always interested me, because in my experience most people don’t really use them. Desks are chosen more for their aesthetics than whether someone actually wants to sit in front of them and do stuff. Now that so many of us are stuck at home, when we never planned to be, I’m getting very curious how it’s all working out.
How many people live at your place? How many of them are studying or working from home? And how many have a physical desk?
The amazing thing to me, in my work with hoarders, has always been the way that stuff takes over areas that are no longer useful. Even when a certain space would be perfect for something that someone likes to do, that activity isn’t getting done because the stuff is in the way. The baker can’t bake, the crafter doesn’t have any flat surfaces to lay anything out, the writer has nowhere to write, the dancer can’t dance.
This is why I wonder. Now that the world has changed, are people changing the way they live amongst their stuff?
One of my friends has recently made a huge change. She has been dealing with chronic disorganization at least as long as I’ve known her, enough so that she’s been evicted at least twice over it. All of a sudden, she reached out and took me up on my offer to coach her. We talked on the phone for an hour - ONE HOUR! - and she’s spent the last several weeks clearing out her place. She sends me video updates from time to time and it’s incredibly dramatic.
Underneath all the piles, there emerges a fine design sensibility and some very graciously appointed rooms. Who knew?
My friend runs her own business, but it is in no way paperwork-related. I don’t think she has a desk at all, and if she did I have no idea what she would do at it. She’s all phone, all the time. She remains my only client who has no issues with paper clutter.
I think a lot of people have a desk because it was given to them at some point, possibly in high school, and they just move it from place to place. They may never have stopped to ask whether they even like it, much less want it, use it, or need it.
Others probably have a “computer desk” that they picked up in the time when we all used desktop computers with a bunch of peripherals and disks. They may not have noticed that at some point they pivoted to doing almost everything on their phone or a tablet.
Most of my people have desks that are basically just another flat surface for piling mail and other papers. The dining table and the kitchen counters are basically the same way. When I do home visits, (or used to), we would whip through the papers at lightning speed because almost none of them were useful. It would be 90% junk mail, restaurant menus, catalogues, coupons, and random stuff they never asked for. Most of what was left was redundant, stuff we don’t need to keep, like utility bills and grocery receipts.
This is what I wonder. How likely is it that people are still hunched over, working or studying in some uncomfortable position all day, when all that unsorted paper is still piled up doing nobody any good?
I think about it a lot, because I started a new job not long after the stay-at-home order, and I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have a decent office chair. I was using a wooden folding chair, one with slats that I never realized were so cruel. In all the time I had used this desk, I’d never sat at it for more than maybe two hours at a time. It actually made my butt go numb.
After two months of nine-hour days, I was ready for a proper ergonomic chair, ugly as it is. I assembled it at 10 pm because there was no way I was waiting another day. After a bit of time sitting in my lovely new chair, I bought a velvet seat cushion and I never looked back.
Life is too short to be hunched over and giving yourself back, shoulder, and neck pain at some makeshift pretense of a work station. Or to put your legs to sleep because you’re sitting in a slatted folding chair.
I know I’m not the only person who was doing this because I found out my work partner was using the exact same type of chair. It would be an extremely weird coincidence if we were the only two people on Earth who were doing that to ourselves.
I realize that money is tight or nonexistent for a lot of households right now. I also know that a lot of people habitually give their stuff all the best real estate and furniture in the house, and leave only little slivers for themselves. For many people, what they need to do in order to be more comfortable is to remove things, not buy or add things.
In the past few months, I’ve given away a lot of things to various strangers in the neighborhood. This has caused me to notice how much other stuff people are giving away, and that oddly seems to include a lot of desks, bookshelves, and chairs. It’s probably a combination of people relocating, and upgrading to newer furniture when they realize that what they had in February 2020 wasn’t working after the world changed. It’s entirely possible to take a look at the listings and realize that you’d be doing someone a favor by taking your perfect desk off their hands. Help them make some space.
Make yourself some space.
A question that is always helpful to ask is, If not now, when? What’s the exit strategy for what I’m doing? When will I want to do something else instead? The way we arrange our rooms is part of that, that sense that it’s good to change things from time to time. It’s good to make sure that our stuff serves us, and make sure we are not at its mercy.
Take a moment to look around and ask yourself, if you’re working from home: Is it time to set up a real desk? Maybe something different, maybe in a different spot? Is it time to finally sort out some stuff and let it go?
Best of luck to you, and I hope your chair is as good to you as you deserve.
Stuff is changing really, really fast in the world of work. Maybe not fast enough for all of those who have been unemployed most of 2020. I am sorry about that, and the most positive thing I can think to do is to propagate ideas that can help people be employed as safely and as quickly as possible.
This is why I think there are a ton of opportunities in spaces like helping businesses to go paperless and in making tech that can help people be in proximity without breathing germs on each other. Read on, and as I think of them I will continue to blurt out ideas about side hustle ideas that might not have worked in 2019.
I work in the aerospace industry, where almost everyone can work from home. Further, most people on staff are irreplaceable. You can’t just go out and recruit a bunch of subject matter experts in astrophysics from the parking lot of Home Depot. One of our colleagues was out with COVID-19 for months, and I honestly have no idea what her team did without her. We regard the coronavirus pandemic as the threat to national security that it is, and we plan accordingly.
This isn’t just about COVID. It’s about any situation that keeps people from getting in to the office. As a practical matter, it makes more sense for a workforce to be distributed if possible. We are at a stage where the technology is in place, so we shrug and move on, and we run shuttle launches from people’s home offices, and nobody really notices. Because it works.
One area where we don’t have it totally nailed down is security. There are meetings that have to be held in specially constructed rooms and with special secured telephones. This is true for us, and it’s true for the military, and for government, and I don’t even know who else. I just know that there are needs above my pay grade.
This is where I think there’s a place for some kind of custom home-office security phone booth.
(For levels above that, there are going to need to be far more SCIFs. That makes more sense than trying to expand the existing ones to accommodate social distancing).
It’s obvious that homes are going to start having more dividers in them, one way or another. I know a couple of guys who work out of their garage, because there are just too many people trying to be on web conferences in the rest of the house. If everyone who can work from home is going to work from home, there has to be more than just a bunch of noise-canceling headphones.
I’m sure most of you have already noticed what a very loud world we inhabit, in terms of garbage trucks and road maintenance and construction sites and landscaping and fire trucks and helicopters. Absolutely none of that is going to change. But the soundproofing can.
Apparently it’s already possible to blow in soundproofing materials into the walls, and that’s one of many great ideas for businesses that wouldn’t have had much runway before 2020.
I wonder if there might be room for little modular offices, like the storage PODS that you sometimes see sitting in someone’s driveway. Someone comes and delivers a little 6x8 office pod with a built-in wifi router and an extension cord that plugs into the house. Maybe it has a letterbox slot big enough for a pizza. Maybe it also has a little chemical toilet like in an RV.
There are still reasons why it makes sense for people to come in to an office, even if 100% of the work that they do can be done over a combination of computer and phone. Security is one of them, at least for the time being. Some people just really, really want to get out and have a “second location” to visit, so they aren’t climbing the walls at home and so that they have a mental disconnect at the end of the day. In those cases, I think the trend is going to be for retrofitting existing commercial real estate. It’s already started. Just add more interior walls, do some smart scheduling and planning, and upgrade the air filtration systems.
Other jobs have traditionally been seen as only possible in person, even though it would be possible to do them remotely. Visiting a doctor’s office is one of those things. I had email and phone conversations with my doctor when I had COVID, and then when I thought I got it a second time but it turned out to be pneumonia. Quite obviously, this was preferable for both of us than for me to get in a rideshare vehicle and come to the clinic to see him and shake his hand.
Will there ever be doctor visits where a telepresence robot performs a procedure in the patient’s house while the doctor observes from across town? Probably, yes! Although doubtfully within the next twenty years.
Other fields that we think of as obviously needing to be done in person, to a futurist, are not that obvious. The first one that comes to mind is construction. Why not operate earth-moving equipment remotely, if it’s safer for human bodies? Human safety needs to be our first priority (though I would argue it never has been so far) and once our safety is prioritized correctly, then it needs to stay that way. Better to wreck a million-dollar machine than a man.
There are already drones walking dogs, and robots delivering food, and artificial intelligence detecting anomalies on MRIs. The future is coming at us and it’s coming at us fast. I’m able to view this with excitement and anticipation, imagining a future world that is safer and cleaner. I see it as a human-centered model where we buy back the time we used to spend commuting, and instead use it to get more sleep, make art, be with our families, or whatever else we want. Let our work serve us, and let our work build a better world.
It’s already starting. The families are making demands, and it isn’t going well.
My friend’s mom asked her to “come home” for Thanksgiving. This is one of my friends who had a particularly rough time with COVID-19. My friend, sensibly, said she would make the drive if two conditions were met.
Everyone in the family said no.
Like many of the people in our extended friend group, they think these requests are insane. We’re being paranoid, controlling, and unfair. We’re the ones with the problem. Indulging us is simply a bad idea.
This year, my friend isn’t going home. Her parents, her sister, and her brother-in-law will be eating without her because the four of them aren’t willing to pod together for two weeks or get a test.
Ultimatums are usually a bad idea, unless there is a toxic situation involved and a permanent, thick line needs to be drawn. When both sides are tossing out ultimatums, it’s likely that the relationship will be different from that point on.
The family says, Come home and do it our way. The end.
You say, I don’t want any of us to wind up in the hospital. I’ll come home under these conditions. The end.
That is a showdown.
In family law - not the kind that involves the courthouse or actual legal code - the only rule is loyalty. Call on any other authority, and you’ve said, or they’ve heard, “I choose a greater authority than you.” Science? Fiscal responsibility? The needs of your own children? A temporary situation that puts your partner’s family first?
It tends to go downhill from there. Whoever had the first conversation where the line was drawn will then call others and repeat their version of what they heard. Then the other family members will text or call and tell you off.
This should be no surprise. There are very few things that humans enjoy more deeply and sincerely than telling someone off. Lecturing, chastising, rebuking. Oh, what fun.
What we’ve forgotten how to do in our society is to stand down. We’ve forgotten, if we ever knew, how to reach toward one another, how to compromise, how to admit we’ve been wrong, how to give an honest apology, how to forgive. We do not have light hearts. We are instinctively suspicious and easily wounded. We read into conversations opinions and words that were never there.
This scenario of the skipped Thanksgiving could easily turn into a point of You Always Do This. This Is Just Exactly Like You. There You Go Again.
What my friend did is what we call Yes, And. Yes, I will come and be with you, And I will do it under these conditions.
When people know how to play Yes, And, everything can be positive and fun.
For instance, one person can say, Let’s do Thanksgiving this year, and the other can say, Yes, and let’s all get tests and quarantine so we can actually do it with no masks on! Maybe that even turns into, Yes, and, I can work from home so maybe I’ll stay through the New Year.
The first refusal shuts down the options that might have followed.
When two people are able to collaborate and cooperate, everything from that point forward becomes easier. Trust is established. Tastes and preferences are put forth. Something new comes out of the interaction that maybe nobody thought of before.
When the third or fourth person joins the interaction, there is already a basis for that cooperation. The unstated rules of the game have been laid out. If each additional person gets it, and keeps the game of Yes, And going, there is then a positive upward spiral.
For instance, my ex-in-laws figured out their own Thanksgiving rules in this way. One of the five kids went vegetarian, and then another went vegan, and then the dad got put on a special diet by his heart doctor. The mom shrugged and said, “Potluck?” And everyone said, “Tacos!” Thereby the great Thanksgiving Taco Buffet was born. Everyone lined up and served themselves from a dozen bowls of ingredients, and everyone was satisfied, and nobody complained, and all the leftovers got eaten.
(If a turkey had climbed through the dog door and gotten in line, it might have gotten its own plate).
Negotiation sounds shifty to a lot of people. Crafty, devious. What it really means is that there are a hundred thousand opportunities for everyone in a situation to be satisfied and have fun. Everyone can walk away happy. The only situation where everyone loses is when at least one person stalls out and refuses to consider any other possibilities.
This is the COVID Thanksgiving scenario under which nobody can win: I demand that you come to my house and pretend there is not a pandemic.
There are a million variations of this, where everyone can feel loved and connected and well-fed. One involves everyone getting tested. Another involves everyone bundling up and sitting outside. Another involves everyone agreeing to meet in person “when all this is over.” My own family is going to get on Zoom and wave to each other and compare meals and play games. I live a thousand miles away, so it’ll be more or less like the 350 days of previous years when we just... live where we live.
Personally I think family relations work better when we treat each other more like professional colleagues. That means we respect each other’s time and budgets. It also means that we speak to each other with basic civility. The more we set policy with each other, the more time we can spend talking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company. The alternatives? Are not that many and not that interesting.
When we’re caught up in family power struggles, sometimes it’s all we can do to avoid making things worse. Focus on what is true: I love you, I want to be with you, I understand how you feel, I know everything is crazy right now. Another thing that is true is that I want us all to be here this time next year. I’ll be here when you’re ready to talk. I will always be here for you.
Just maybe not in person right now.
Even though I was scared and I hate needles, I went out and got the flu shot. I waited until mid-October like Fauci suggested, so I’ll still be covered through the end of flu season. This year it matters more, for several reasons.
More interestingly, it turns out there are reasons to get the flu shot besides the obvious.
Oh, wait, what are the obvious reasons? For all my women readers who start doing the Russian Cat No and wildly shaking their heads back and forth whenever the topic comes up? (Why it’s women I have no idea, since we tend to be so healthy and smart in most other ways).
I used to be a flu shot refuser, too. Until the year my husband got his shot at work and I “never got around to it.” (Read: chronic procrastinator). I got the flu and he didn’t. I was sick as a dog for eight days and he was totally fine. All right! All right! Fine! I’ll get the dang flu shot.
I’ve been doing it every year since then, and it’s been completely okay. I don’t even get needle reaction anymore, not since I started doing martial arts.
That’s my obvious reason. Obviously I would rather do almost anything than ever have the flu like that again. Honestly, if that injection was full of mercury, high fructose corn syrup, gluten, cat hair, ragweed pollen, depleted uranium, and bedbug particles, I’d still get it. It works!
People be drinking Mountain Dew and eating fast food and then worrying about what’s in half a milliliter of a highly tested vaccine.
The next most obvious reason to get the flu shot is that I have the ability and others don’t. I do it for my blessed mother-in-law who passed. She battled lymphoma no fewer than five times. When she was on chemo, she couldn’t get the flu shot, and influenza could have taken her down. Anyone who wears one of those pink ribbons, I hope you demonstrate your commitment in a practical way by doing one of the few things that could actually help a real live cancer patient live to fight another day.
Babies too. An infant too little to get the shot might die from flu, but I won’t. I could never have kids of my own, but I can help protect other people’s. Auntie power.
There’s a third obvious reason, and that is that we truly can’t afford to have influenza and COVID-19 circulating at the same time. It’s our responsibility to get the vaccine for the one, since there’s no way to get a vaccine for the other yet.
The same people who are honking and braying about “herd immunity” for COVID better shut up until they can demonstrate that they got their flu shot. You like herd immunity so much, prove it.
Or wait. Were you actually saying that you’re pro-humans dying like flies from contagious disease? Pro-plague? Pro-mass death?
This stuff matters. Getting the flu shot is not the same thing as voting, or... or flossing. It’s not just another preachy thing that people want to peer pressure each other about.
I’m the same way about the flu shot as ex-smokers are about cigarettes. I’m mad at Past Me for being a big dumb chicken - and then getting the flu when I didn’t have to - and I wish I could go back in time and tell all this stuff to my own self.
Okay, so, I promised I would talk about why there are bonus reasons to get the flu shot now. I shall henceforth. Tarry no longer. Et cetera.
New research indicates that getting the flu shot can lower your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.
When I read that, I about fell over. Avoiding Alzheimer’s is my organizing principle. It’s my sole health motivator. If only this had been demonstrated 20 years ago!
Check it out. Get the flu shot one single time, over the age of 60, and it lowers your risk of Alzheimer’s 17%. Getting the flu shot every year, most years, adds up to an additional 13% lowering of risk.
I don’t need to know why. If it’s even a loose correlation, I’m doing it. Like I said, even if the injection was full of, like, grass clippings and rusty nails, I’m rolling up my sleeve. Wait an hour if I have to.
Wait, there’s more!
Getting the flu shot can also lower your risk of heart attack.
What?? Why??? Nobody told me that!
A lot of people who are nervous about vaccination want things to be “natural.” There’s this idea that industrial things from the 20th century are toxic, anything from food additives to pervasive exposure to plastics and environmental pollution. Hey, I agree with all of that 100%. I actually ate, for dinner just now, a large quantity of organic kale produced by community-supported agriculture.
It’s just that I have a degree in history, and I know that contagious diseases have been the greatest scourge of humanity since before written records were kept.
We’ve benefited from this. Longevity has doubled in the past 200 years. This is partly because far more children live into adulthood, and partly because it’s far more common for adults to become centenarians. People are much taller on average because far fewer people suffered devastating fevers in childhood. We owe a significant debt to vaccination programs for all of this - yes, “we,” even the refusers, those who might not indulge in social loafing in any other context.
I got the flu shot, and I was glad to do it, even though I was petrified to walk into the clinic. I wore a double-layer fabric mask and a plastic face shield. I was in and out of there in under 10 minutes. For the first time, the injection itself was the least of my worries.
You know what, though? After almost dying of COVID-19 this spring, I was thrilled to sit up in the chair and get that injection, a sign of life, a short sharp pain I wouldn’t have felt as a ghost in the afterlife. This is borrowed time, this life of ours, and it is a good thing to use our time toward significant and meaningful acts.
I’m tossing around a concept presented by Barry Davret that is really blowing my mind right now. Never get ready.
What does this mean?
The idea is that most of us spend a lot of time doing a lot of stuff that doesn’t actually help our situation. We burn energy “getting ready” to do whatever the thing is, energy that would better be used for doing that actual thing.
I think this is both true and untrue, depending on how the point is taken. As a poster or a slogan on a coffee mug, it might be very helpful for some and for others, it might simply make a great excuse.
Let’s look at some examples.
Someone who is trying to start a business, who puts tons of effort into building a social media presence, choosing logos, fussing over a website - and does not actually make any sales.
Someone who is “getting ready” to go out, who puts on and takes off several outfits, throwing them on the bed and the floor, and then leaves various bottles and jars strewn all over the bathroom counter. This person may feel nervous and self-conscious throughout the event, tugging garments into place and forgetting to actually have fun. (“This person” is probably every single middle-school student).
Someone who is getting ready to make a craft project, who shops for materials and buys books and chooses patterns, who has a half a dozen projects in progress, but then never actually finishes anything. (Me 1997-2009)
Someone who is getting ready to start dating, who signs up for an app, looks at tons of profiles, maybe even starts talking to people, but then never actually meets anyone in person.
One of the classics that I see in my work with chronically disorganized people is the sheer quantity of little tasks they will do before they walk out the door to go anywhere. Take the date-night “getting ready” aesthetic jitters, and add half a mile of pacing back and forth looking for objects or finishing little chores. It’s exponentially harder with small kids.
I used to be this way myself, until I acknowledged that I didn’t want to leave at all and I was coming up with reasons to stay in my apartment as long as I could.
This is what Davret is driving at with the exhortation to “never get ready.” Just jump in and do the thing, whatever it is.
I agree with him 99%.
The 1% of hesitation is that a certain amount of preparation is necessary in order to get straight to the target action. This is what we mean by Getting Organized.
For instance, I keep a shower kit packed at all times. When I want(ed) to go on a trip (before COVID), I would simply grab it and put it in my suitcase. I have another little pouch with a charging hub, backup batteries, adapters, and extra cables, including one for my Apple Watch. I have recorded myself packing for a trip in under five minutes. I put four changes of clothes, pajamas, and a pair of shoes in a suitcase that fits under an airplane seat. This is how I have managed to be a one-bag traveler for many years, even overseas.
In this sense, I can do what I want and “never get ready,” because I am always ready!
In another sense, there is a sort of carefree interpretation of “never getting ready” that would not benefit from my system. Sure, it’s possible to get on a plane with nothing but a passport and a credit card, and why not? I’ve thought about it quite a bit, in fact. It’s through the experience of nearly 40 years of travel that I’ve chosen to bring a certain amount of excess, like a blister stick and some headache tablets, because it makes my life easier and it saves time.
Let’s do another example. I took up public speaking several years ago, because it made me miserable and I was terrible at it. All you can do is improve, right? When I started out, I would spend a week working on a five-minute speech, and an entire day memorizing it. The good news is that I learned I am really good at memorization. The bad news was, whenever I would lose my spot, I would vapor-lock and have no idea what to say.
My friends in the club finally convinced me to start winging it and quit trying to memorize my stuff. “It’s your own story and you know what’s going to happen,” they said.
It didn’t take long before I started winning Best Speaker ribbons for impromptu speaking. Now I rarely do any preparation for a speech at all. I might read a couple of articles, but usually my material arises naturally out of whatever I’ve been reading and thinking about that week. I never get ready any more because I’ve reached a state of constant readiness.
What the desire for getting ready and feeling prepared comes from is anxiety. Perhaps there’s a mix of impostor syndrome in there, along with an intolerance for being in the Place of Uncertainty.
The question is: Can I handle this?
The answer, most of the time, is: Of course I can.
Of course you can.
There are a bunch of specific skills that tend to give someone a feeling of being better prepared for the weirder events of life. They should be advertised this way.
Basically it feels like this: I have a go bag, I can talk my way out of most situations and maybe buy my way out of others, if it all starts to go sideways I can fight melee, and after that I can patch myself up and maybe hide out in the woods for a while. Anything that doesn’t fit these parameters shouldn’t affect my self-esteem too much anyway.
In one sense, it’s true, we should probably never get ready. We should just focus on doing whatever it is that is truly important to us. In another sense, maybe we should focus more on being ready for anything.
It’s already happening. We didn’t necessarily know back in March of 2020 that we were in the early stages of a global pandemic, but we sure do now. Obviously most people have noticed the economic impact. What I think will start to change more radically is the nature of work and the workplace.
What’s it going to be like? What is work after COVID going to look like?
As a COVID survivor myself, I can say that certain things will change on the employer’s side, but other changes will be driven by the employee. For instance, very simply, I will never again show up in person for a company that allows sick, coughing people to come into the building. I can’t. How can I be productive if I’m exposed to respiratory illnesses that are still hard for me to fight - even the common cold?
A lot of people like me, people who have that type of option, will just work from home forever.
On the one hand, this is really unfair for those who can’t. On the other hand, every person who works from home allows just that little bit more physical space for everyone else. Each person who works from home makes the roads a little clearer, the parking spaces a little emptier, the lunch lines a little shorter.
At my work, right around the six-month mark, the lightbulb went off above several people’s heads. Almost nobody in our company needs to be in the building to work, but the reason they do need to come in is to use the labs. We never have enough laboratory space, and a lot of other companies are the same way. Send home even a dozen people permanently, and suddenly there are options to renovate. Remove the offices you no longer need, replace them with lab space, and eventually it’s safe for everyone in the lab to distance.
I talked to my cousin recently, and at his work, the directors go to the office and everyone else works from home. This is interesting, because leadership takes on the physical risk. It’s the first we had heard of this type of arrangement.
It’s easy enough to track productivity and make sure people are staying on task. Look at their work product, measure their deliverables. Install a keystroke tracker if you feel you need to. If people are meeting their deadlines, it’s fine. Who cares if they did it in their bathrobe? Companies that are still hung up about needing to monitor people can learn to do it remotely, perhaps with even greater scrutiny than they showed back in the conventional office.
It’s going to be cheaper, and that will eventually help to lengthen the leash.
One area where working from home makes things more complicated is the issue of security. The reason a lot of our people need to go into the physical office is that they can’t take secure calls at home. It’s not physical materials, it’s the soundproofing and the encryption. There may eventually be solutions for this that can be built into people’s private homes, but this would be quite expensive. Then the next person who lived in that home probably wouldn’t need that feature! More secure “phone booth” type arrangements may need to be set up, either things that can be moved from house to house without too much trouble, or far more external options like mini-coworking offices.
Encryption is definitely going to be an area of greater emphasis and development. If you’re looking for things to do and areas to retrain, that’s something to consider.
Another area where development is going to move very quickly is in converting paper processes to digital. Those who find this annoying or who are nervous about their skills are going to need to reach out for tutorials and coaching to get up to speed.
To me the worst thing in the world is for someone to risk COVID exposure at work just because they’re trapped in an old paper-based system. In most cases, these systems could have been digitized at least a decade ago, it’s just that nobody wanted to.
Another area where I see change and expansion is in retro-fitting vehicles and public spaces, like store countertops. We absolutely must do everything technologically possible to protect anyone who has to work with the public. “Essential” doesn’t matter here. Zero people should be in a position where someone is breathing into their face. The customer is no longer “always right” - and I think anyone who has ever worked retail will agree, they never were! Plexiglass or whatever it takes.
Several years ago, I happened to be with my parents when they dropped by their credit union. There was no teller physically present in the building. Customers went into a little reception area and communicated through a video screen. If that tech was available over a decade ago, then it can be done elsewhere.
Something else security-related that I think we’ll see is that technology will be assigned for security detail. A store employee should not be subject to physical violence from some rabid mask denier. The doors simply shouldn’t open for someone who refuses to obey store dress code. If they can tell us “no shoes, no shirt, no service” or that they “reserve the right to refuse” any customer, then certainly they can enforce public health directives.
Tech developments were already starting to appear in the years before this pandemic, and now they’re going to move faster. Delivery robots for short distances. Customer service and security robots. Tele-medicine. There will certainly be more tech for air filtration and sanitizing surfaces. Once the infrastructure is in place for more transactions to be done safely and death-breath-free, it will most likely stay that way. People are looking for ways to shop, entertain themselves, and socialize in groups, and if it takes special masks to do it, we’ll adapt.
A lot of people are out of work right now, partly because we’re in a state of uncertainty about how long the pandemic will last. Think back to the trends of the 1920s. After the end of the Spanish Flu pandemic, people were elated, looking to party and spend money. The 20th century really only began at that point. The world of 1925 looked wildly different than the world of 1915. Prepare for something similar in the decade that begins with 2020. Start thinking about the jobs of the future. With a bit of trend analysis and a bit of training, it’s not impossible that a lot of people would wind up better off than they were before the pandemic - as long as we stay safe enough to see it all unfold.
I’ve had the pleasure of reading Benjamin Hardy’s work for several years, having stumbled across his writing before he published his first book. I was utterly blown away by Slipstream Time Hacking, and he has only improved since then. I would call him a “must-read” author, and he’s given us an instant classic with Personality Isn’t Permanent.
I read this book literally in one sitting and wanted to review it immediately.
Aha, so this is what someone can do with a doctorate in psychology!
The premise is that Personality Isn’t Permanent - we can determine what character traits we want to develop, we can change our behaviors and beliefs, and we can design our own lives. Hardy backs this up with psychological research and examples of various people’s life experiences, including his own. He describes himself as a loser who played World of Warcraft 15 hours a day, until he decided to change his life. Now he’s a married father of five kids and he has a PhD and a couple of best-selling books.
There are a couple of points in this book that a lot of readers will find challenging. The first is that personality tests are worthless. The second is the idea that it’s possible to transform trauma, using traumatic experiences as material to build a better and stronger self-image. My suggestion would be that most people can finish reading a short book even when they don’t automatically agree with everything in it. I’ve been through the process of reexamining personal trauma, and Hardy is right, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to accept!
Personality Isn’t Permanent, and this is a fabulous finding. It’s the path to freedom. This is an inspirational book, one that is worth pondering with full engagement.
When you decide who you’ll be and the life you’ll live, you can have anything you truly want. You can become an outlier.
If you experience resistance through your reading, take heart. You’re on the brink of facing the truth of who you are.
Right now, you don’t truly want what your future self wants.
Your future self is an acquired taste.
Peak experiences are rare for most people, but can happen regularly. You could have a peak experience today if you choose to. You must be intentional. You must be courageous. You must move your life in the direction you genuinely want to go.
Thinking about yourself, what would happen if your future self came to you and told you that everything you want to see happen was going to happen? Would you believe them?
Figures of speech that we wouldn’t really have understood last year are now becoming commonplace. If I crack a joke about washing my mail, for instance, people know what I mean. Last year they probably would have assumed they had heard me wrong. One of those sayings that has been popping up a lot is, When all this is over.
A year ago, if anyone mentioned “all this being over,” they probably would have been talking about a remodel, or... ? I’m racking my brain, trying to think of a scenario that would have merited this turn of phrase.
Now we all know what it means. When the pandemic is over. When social distancing is over. When travel restrictions are over. When mask requirements are over. When stay-at-home orders are over. When we can go back to the office. When schools are consistently open. When business travel resumes. When we are no longer trapped in a collective nightmare.
The trouble with this is that we’re all looking backward.
We still think that “all of this” will be “over” at some point.
The spin on the pandemic has been over whether COVID-19 is real or not, whether it counts as a threat or not, whether we should change our behavior because of it or not.
As a futurist and as an historian, I know the question is really, how often will we have pandemics now?
George Washington and Andrew Jackson both got smallpox as teenagers. Abigail Adams led the way for cutting-edge science by volunteering to get smallpox inoculations for herself and her kids. She died of typhoid fever years later. William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia while in office. Abraham Lincoln got sick with smallpox the same day he gave the Gettysburg Address. Woodrow Wilson got H1N1 while in office. FDR had polio.
Think of how different American history would be if the course of any one of these illnesses had gone the other way. If George Washington had died at 19, if Harrison had lived, if Lincoln had fallen ill a couple days earlier and hadn’t written that speech... ?
There IS no “when this is over.” Contagious epidemic disease has been the scourge of humanity since before before we started keeping written records.
The main difference is that right now there are seven billion of us. In 1918, there were fewer than two billion. In 1776 it was about one billion. Quite simply, there are more of us, we inhabit more areas of the planet, and the same percentage of illness or death will involve far more individual people. Over a quarter of Americans got sick with the Spanish Flu and fewer than one percent died, but if that happened now, roughly 82 million people would have been sick and roughly 3/4 of a million people would have died.
One thing that is similar between COVID-19 and the H1N1 outbreak of WWI is that people defied mask orders. Just like now, people at that time got into fistfights about it, and at least one person got shot. The science was there, the body count was rising, everyone was freaking out, and already there were people who would rather go to prison or die than wear a little strip of fabric on their face for a couple hours.
This probably will never change. A thousand years from now this probably will not have changed.
There is another saying: “avoid it like the plague.” I’m sure we’re already laughing about the fact that humans do not avoid the plague. On the contrary, it seems that some are actively encouraging it, not only defying public health regulations but possibly? If the rumors are true? Hosting actual parties in hopes that people will get it and get it over with.
Hey guess what. Reinfection is possible and, at time of writing, we still only have one confirmed death from reinfection by a second strain of COVID-19.
I think about “when all this is over” because even the Spanish Flu epidemic eventually ended. Yeah, thousands of people have died of influenza since then, but not at the same rate. (H1N1 at that time was hemorrhagic; it included regular flu symptoms but some people also bled out their ears or eyes). Even the Black Death eventually ended. These things do go away - or at least they always have so far.
When I think about “when all this is over,” I think first about seeing my own family. We’re closing in on a year since we’ve seen each other in person. It wouldn’t surprise me if we have to go another two years. We can do it, though, because we love each other enough to wait. We believe the science and, of course, the group of us all have my personal experience to go on.
The other thing I think is that we’re all looking backward. The world that we knew is gone, just like George Washington’s world is gone and Abraham Lincoln’s world is gone. We may as well start thinking forward now, like they always tried to do, and start imagining what this thing called the future is going to be like.
There are a bunch of things we aren’t going to miss, like having a coworker come into the office with a bad cold or listening to people cough in the theater. There are a lot of things we were still doing earlier this year that are relics of the 19th century, such as visiting an office in person to fill out information on a piece of paper. DMV, I’m looking at you. So much of that bureaucratic infrastructure could easily have been done digitally decades ago. It’s certainly not worth dying over.
It’s the job of a futurist to look forward, to pull together inklings of trends and imagine them into better and more interesting versions of today. I like to look ahead to the 15-year range. It would be better if I could look to the 30-50 year range, and I’m hoping to learn to do that. I also hope I’ll live that long, that in 50 years I’ll be 95 and I can look back on 2020 and wave my hand at it dismissively.
That’s why I wear a mask. I’m going to bury this pandemic in my personal past. I’m going to beat it and make it just a footnote in my timeline. That’s my plan and I hope everyone else is on board. When all this is over, we’ll need someone to write the history of it.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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