One year ago exactly (at this minute), my wife and I were somewhere over Nebraska, headed from Newark to Santa Barbara by way of Denver, on the last flight we’ve ever taken. Prior to that we had put about four million miles on United alone, flying almost constantly somewhere, mostly on business. The map above traces what my pocket GPS recorded on various trips (and far from all of them) by land, sea and air since 2007. This life began for me in 1990 and for my wife long before that. Post-Covid, none of this will ever be the same. For anybody.
We also haven’t seen most of our kids or grandkids in more than a year. Same goes for countless friends, business associates and fellow (no longer) travelers on other routes of life.
The old normal is over. We don’t know what the new normal will be, exactly; but it’s clear that business travel as we knew it is gone for years to come, if not forever.
I also sense a generational hand-off. Young people always take over from their elders at some point, but this handoff is from the physical to the digital. Young people are digital natives. Older folk are at best familiar with the digital world: adept in many cases, but not born into it. Being born into the digital world is very different. And still very new.
Though my wife and I have been stuck in Southern California for a year now, we have been living mostly in the digital world, working hard on that handoff, trying to deposit all we can of our long experience and hard-won wisdom on the conveyor belt of work we share across generations.
There will be a new normal, eventually. It will be a normal like the one we had in the 20th Century, which started with WWI and ended with Covid. This was a normal where the cultural center was held by newspapers and broadcasting, and every adult knew how to drive.
Now we’re in the 21st Century, and it’s something of a whiteboard. We still have the old media and speak the same languages, but Covid pushed a reset button, and a lot of the old norms are open to question, if not out the window completely.
Why should the digital young accept the analog-born status quos of business, politics, religion, education, transportation or anything? The easy answer is because the flywheels of those things are still spinning. The hard answers start with questions about how we can do all that stuff better. For sure all the answers will be, to a huge degree, digital.
Perspective: the world has been digital for a only few years now, and will likely remain so for many decades or centuries. Far more has been not been done than has, and lots of stuff will have to be improvised until we (increasingly the young folk) figure out the best approaches. It won’t be easy. None of the technical areas my wife and I are involved with personally (and I’ve been writing about) —privacy, identity, fintech, facial recognition, advertising, journalism—have easy answers to their problems, much less final ones.
But we like working on them, and sensing some progress, which doesn’t suck.