Before I move on to explain why I think there’s a silver lining for our society that comes from this pandemic, let me state the obvious: No silver lining would make up for the disenhartening death toll worldwide, the suffering, and the eventual economic downturn.
I’d take back any “digital acceleration” for less human suffering. However, this is something we can’t control. What we can control is how this tumultuous shift will change our perception of the world.
There are many changes to our economy that will become more apparent over time, but there’s no denying that this acceleration will open up several opportunities, too.
Back in 2010, Paul Graham famously said that we need to develop “social antibodies” to deal with all the unitended consequences of the internet – namely internet addiction. Nir Eyal has written about this, too.
Here are some areas where I’m very excited to see progress:
More secure: WhatsApp messages are now suspicious by default. One of the most scary future uses of technology, deep fakes, will have a harder time in having the nefarious impact and the global reach of conspiracy theories, as everyone now understands that just because something was shared on Facebook or WhatsApp, it doesn’t mean it’s true, and that you should check reliable sources for confirmation. Sadly, this positive anti-body behavior has been emerging naturally, as the world’s most dangerous sociopath continues to downplay its role.
More open: My (potentially optimistic) perspective is that we’re collectively seeing, in a transparent way never before seen, how science evolves, as thousands of scientists work together to gather strong evidence against this virus. People took science as a discrite, non-evolving study. You found out something, and move on to the next. Now, hopefully, people understand that science is proven and disproven, and that’s how we learn. Another important factor is that this path to state of the art science was firewalled by academy journals, and they were also forced to rethink how and what they publish, and no less important, how fast it should be published.
Less China dependent. Countries are looking to reinforce their local production chains on strategic areas like biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and renewable components. This re-evaluation of the world’s production capacity will hinder China’s Belt and Road initative, which the West has been adamantly ignoring. In the long run, the BRI was ensuring China controlled all production chains of most essential goods, while we only cared about getting the cheapest, wherever it came from.
Greener economies. No, the lockdowns worldwide did not reduce our emissions in a noticeable way. After the lockdowns ended, we were back to gas-guzzling driving. The argument for greener economies is the forced pit-stop for industrialization made us question which investments will pay off further down the road. So the plans, in the US, Europe, and to some extent, China to accelerate greener economies don’t sound that extreme left anymore. We’ve moved the discussion from the “why” to the “how”, and that’s great progress.