Thinkers are highly demanded these days, with that pressure to advance the future. This is the most predicted: a world with more digital connection than physical, more electronic surveillance and less privacy, more nation state and less globalization. Yes, listen, but that was already happening before the pandemic. We haven’t invented Skype, Tinder, Amazon, or Netflix now. Google and Apple have been tracking us for more than a decade. It already happened that young people go out less because they are comfortable with their devices; shopping malls and movie theaters were already in trouble. Nor do they come from the virus, rather from the crisis of 2008, the populisms that muddy politics and build walls on the borders.
The philosopher John Gray is from the apocalyptic. “Much of our pre-virus lifestyle is already unrecoverable,” he writes. We will live obsessed with hygiene, the virtual will displace the face-to-face, even sex will be limited to screens. And “the remnants of bourgeois life will disappear,” he says. On the other side, political scientist Yascha Mounk resists chronocentrism, that mania of analyzing the future and the past too conditioned by the here and now. In an article in The Atlantic, Mounk recalls that after the devastation of the Great War and the flu of 1918 the mad and hedonistic twenties broke out. “The 1918 virus had killed more people than the deadliest war known, but it did not reduce humans’ determination to socialize.”
There were always disasters and we got up afterwards. When the tsunami devastated Southeast Asia, the world shook, but before long its beaches were once again teeming with tourists. New York was again, continued to be, that dynamic and vibrant city after 9/11. Of course, crises, wars or pandemics change history. And the most powerful transforming force is usually technology: fire and wheels, agriculture and boats, running water and vaccines (which doubled life expectancy), the telegraph and the train. Electricity in homes was an even more radical advance than the one that started about 25 years ago, when the Internet entered our homes. If this pandemic drives digitization, it is because we have taken advantage of what we already had.
Before proclaiming the end of neoliberalism, dating, classrooms and offices, let’s look at history. The Black Death that ravaged Europe did not stop the rise of cities against feudal lords, which led to the Renaissance. The twenty were not years of mourning, but of cabaret and charleston. It is true that that decade did not end well, with crack and totalitarianism; Let’s see if this century works better for us. There is nothing wrong with wanting to dance after being scared. The risk is to get out of the crisis without having learned anything.