The coronavirus puts the entire human race in a unique point in history. Never before has the entire world been seized by one common issue, never before have been so compelled to look at things from the perspective of a species. One could argue that something like the prospect of a nuclear holocaust affects all of us a species but a global pandemic although much dismissed and also erased from the 21st-century human memory has come to haunt us. Out of the blue when nobody was really paying attention or, when everyone was paying attention to ‘bigger’ issues. It is a sick joke on human evolution and modernity that we are planning on occupying Mars on the one hand and on the other hand-dying of fever and cold. The problems as we are seeing are small as they have been, only worse when dismissed.
A crisis reveals everything – the problems that have long existed, that exist, that will exist, but more than anything, it is the ultimate revelation of power. Only a hundred years ago, the world had a similar deadly pandemic – the Spanish flu, which killed millions of people. Not surprisingly, it hasn’t found mentions in history until now because back then it was the norm. As a species collectively we were convinced that plagues that can kill so many people are occurrences of Biblical times, much in the annals of mythology now. No doomsday prophet would even remotely predict people dying of a pandemic in the 21st century, because that would be dismissed as impossible. When I first watched the movie Contagion, I found it gripping but dismissed the ‘impossible scenarios’ in the movie. Now it is the only sci-fi movie that has probably come so close to reality, and I hope it convinces people to not take fiction as just fiction. What scares me the most is that we haven’t even reached halfway through the movie.
The future still largely remains unknown to everyone, but there are some definitive changes we must acquaint ourselves with. The fintech industry will see an even bigger boom with the fall of cash exchange. In fact, this is the definitive moment that should be seized by fintech companies and also the government to make the transition from cash to digital currency, which is a far more convenient mode of transaction. The edtech industry and jobs advertising industry will also see a boom in the near future. That education in itself will see a radical change in total online classrooms is highly doubtful. The same applies to workspaces. We cannot yet dismiss the adage – out of sight, out of mind. However, this transition allows us to imagine new and more flexible workspaces. To take a small idea of a virtually simulated workspace – that is one sits at home and is transported into a virtual setting of the office or classroom. And finally, the delivery economy and social media economy will see big booms as well given that the virus has forced us to stay indoors and will probably do so for some time.
In terms of politics, the change has been severe and more revelatory with the United States of America effectively foregoing their role of a world leader – policy eased into by the Trump administration since 2016 and now concretised by the response of the administration to the pandemic. America’s refusal to take on the global leadership position has strengthened China’s position, and if India does manage to wage a successful war on the virus, I might as well do a Henry Luce and call this the ‘Asian century’. There is a withering storm as well and China is facing a hard backlash, but that only further proves how the world order has already changed. The resistance to China is a strong acknowledgement of the power of a king who has finally arrived at the battlefield. This marks the end of Western dominance in global politics unless of course, the West wins the race for the vaccine.
Will Covid-19 affect the course of Globalisation? BLR.
What is scary is the narrative of power that is to be shaped by a country like China, that is a unique mix of autocratic digital capitalism. China has been the greatest benefactor of globalisation, but it has been much more of a taker than a giver. The coronavirus’ seriousness mainly stems from the fact that the world is so inter-connected today, so ‘in touch’, so ‘close’ to each other. Sharing economy, gig economy, the prospects of such the impact on such a global economy will be immense no doubt. But will globalisation recede or will it only strengthen after this? A lot of that narrative depends on China, the United States and also India. One common feature that ties all these countries together today is their nationalistic governments and populations as well. A country like India, however, has been completely liberal in terms of its economic interactions with the world. Only recently, Facebook announced its giant investment of Rs. 43,754 crores in the Indian conglomerate Reliance. Imagine that in contrast to China which has shunned the biggest American companies from their country.
A return to closed economies sounds scary given the kind of surveillance economy that we live in today, but it is a high possibility. In fact, it is very surprising that companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon, which are tech monopolies of the world aren’t facing increasing backlash in other countries yet. If data is the new oil, then all countries ought to raise the question of why only three companies ought to control it for the majority of the world. With tools like social media and search becoming so intrinsic to human survival, the posterity would have to look at nationalising it or even better internationalising it. Hence there are things that have already changed and there are things that can be changed, for the better. The justice system for one could use this moment for radical change – with a serious infusion of technology, making courts paperless, streaming court proceedings, making hearings online. This is ‘the’ chance for turning all those long talks of ‘accessible justice’ into a reality. Another positive impact we could look at is the case for less travel. That not only makes things easier for people (to save both resources and time) but also, as has been proven, can apply the necessary brakes on the perils of climate change.
There are many ways to reimagine and shape the future and not be overtly cynical about it. In areas where change cannot be predicted which are majorly the case, change must be experimented with and acted upon. What the pandemic best reveals is what is important and what is not and how we, as a species, can strive for a more minimalistic life and one in harmony with nature.
Swagat Baruah is the founding editor of Catharsis Magazine.