Transformational outcomes

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 26, 2020, 12:00 AM | comments: 0

In the midst of a global pandemic that is killing thousands of people and wrecking significant parts of the economy, it's pretty easy to devote a lot of anxiety to all of it. With my growing interest in anthropology and history though, my mind often wanders to what the world looks like on the other side. This is, to an extent, a self-defense mechanism, because I'd much rather think about how things improve than think about the odds that one of us don't make it.

Healthcare, naturally, will have to fundamentally change. Outside of the US, there is already a lot of talk about "surge capacity," which can be a thing in systems that are not designed for profit. Here in the US, we're seeing the worst combination of our problems: healthcare is linked to insurance which is linked to employment. That's a scary thing when unemployment is hurtling toward 1 in 5 people. There is also emerging evidence that survival rates, and early on even the ability to be tested, were largely tied to income levels. There are a whole lot of moral implications to consider, as well as practical. As disease is unconcerned with socioeconomic status, containing transmission becomes harder when a segment of the population doesn't have healthcare access. At the end of the day, my hope is that we'll finally have the conversation about why we spend more per capita than most countries but have less positive outcomes. It's an objective truth we've ignored and done nothing about for a long time.

With all of these people working from home, I imagine that businesses who operate largely with desk jobs will ask some hard questions about whether or not they need real estate on the books. My perspective is admittedly skewed about this, because I've worked mostly remote for years, and even now, my org is 90% remote most of the time. Smaller companies in particular take on some volume of risk when they sign a lease. And then you get annoying things like last year, when our building air conditioning died. Still, I see the appeal of co-locating, and understand why people enjoy it. If it weren't for the commute, I might even prefer it some of the time.

School was already starting to transform slowly, as more and more districts send devices home with their kids. You can do so much now with a cheap Chromebook. And it's important that the school provide the hardware so as not to discriminate against the poor kids who have no say in their socioeconomic status. The underlying software is a huge mess at the moment, which I can see as frustrating, for teacher, parents and kids. There was already an industry around distributed learning, but I can see districts taking a hard look at it now in a broad sense.

To minimize exposure to other people, it has made sense to order stuff online and have it delivered, including groceries. This is unfortunately still priced as a luxury, but think about the extraordinary efficiency it involves. If 10 people on the same street all go to the grocery store, they're all (unless they drive EV's) burning fuel and emitting CO2. But if one person delivers those goods to all 10 of those people, only one car had carbon impact. And someone now has a job, whereas the 10 individuals all have their own job already. That sounds like an opportunity to me, so how do we make it scale?

And of course, we'll have to look at how we handle this kind of global health emergency. In fiction, the zombie apocalypse always comes about because the disease spreads too fast to be contained, and there is no coordinated response. We're seeing that first hand, as leaders at every level in the US are in a state of decision paralysis, incapable of critical thinking or understanding science, more worried about the political implications than the outcomes. Everything that has happened has happened according to predictions from scientists and experts. The US even had a head start, seeing it happen in other nations weeks ahead. There's a whole lot of failure to go around, and we can't pretend it didn't happen.

If there's anything though that I hope we'll look harder at, it's objective, observable truth. Even in the context of the pandemic, I'm horrified by people who refuse to engage in any critical thinking, and reject what they can plainly see in front of them. Sports rivalry politics and tribalism has caused people to lose their minds. To draw a comparison, I'm originally from Cleveland, and I'm used to people sticking by the Browns year after year, even though for my entire life, they've never won a Super Bowl. But the thing is, nobody dies when the Browns suck, which is every year. Applying that commitment to the political party of your choice is insane. The older I get, the more socially liberal I get, and fiscally conservative-ish I get, and neither party really checks both boxes. (The GOP doesn't check any boxes at all... they're creating the worst deficits and national debt of any party in history.)

A segment of the population has to stop granting politicians, especially the president, the flexibility to mix fact and fiction. It does not serve us. "Alternative fact" is not a thing... it's either a fact or it's not. Right now, the difference between fact and fiction literally costs lives. We can't operate like that.

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