Some predictions for 2021

Mark My Words #3

In the next year, we will gradually stop talking about a ‘new normal’ and begin to ask ourselves what the ‘new model’ will be. How do we want to live? What should work look like? COVID-19 wrought big, structural changes in the way we think about our work and social lives. As young professionals’ priorities shift, and companies express greater tolerance about working from home (some are even leaving the big cities), cities will need to think about what makes them enduringly attractive. The re-opening of theatres, galleries, and shows in a post-COVID world should allow them to showcase some of their strengths, before a generation opts for the comforts of the suburbs that they once spurned.

The new model will have to be responsive to young peoples’ priorities—which, as the cultural upheavals of 2020 have shown, are permanently fixed in the direction of racial and gender equality. These values are not changing. What will change, however, as we move towards a Biden administration that is more intent on signalling its commitment to equal representation, is the tenor of these conversations. Trump’s incendiary actions brought young people to the streets. 2021 will look less like a riot, and more like a regrouping as social justice groups gauge what to expect from the Biden years. Culturally, we can expect a year of reflection (rather than revolution).

That said, some of the biggest confrontations in years are due in the digital sphere. In many ways, COVID has accelerated trends that were already long in place. Tracking the coronavirus meant more personal data in the hands of governments and big tech. (Apple, for example, built a contact tracing feature in its iPhone.) In 2021, conversations about tech privacy are going to be more relevant than ever. Regulators have announced their intent to take on big tech in the next few years. But the big question will reside with the public: are we comfortable with how our data is used? Platforms like Facebook and Twitter may well try to clean up their act, taking responsibility for misinformation on their platforms (which they have long been reluctant to do) and guaranteeing more privacy. It will be too late. Regulators have tasted blood.

What does this mean for us? As the pandemic comes to a close, we’ve glimpsed the possibility of everything being altered. Whether things come back the same or different, we will see them in light of their changeability. Big questions will linger into 2021. Will the new model involve a different work-week? Should I invest more money in my house? Should I live near my parents? To many, the pandemic was an event that, like Rilke’s ancient statue, told us we must change our lives. My prediction: whoever can provide a coherent vision of just how we ought to do that, will take the main stage in 2021.