I heard Scott Galloway say recently that COVID-19 was going to act like an accelerator to a number of big changes.
The comment vibrated my center, and reminded me of something Andrew Yang said in his book, The War On Normal People.
He was talking about the coming threat to everyday jobs from automation, and said that there’s lots of tech out there that does automation of various functions, but that many managers are set in their ways and won’t migrate to them … unless…
…unless there were a crisis—like an economic slowdown, or a recession—that forced business owners to lay people off anyway. The idea is that once that happens, and the company gets stripped down to bare essentials, then when it comes time to staff back up, a lot of businesses will be looking at a lot of automation.
So maybe there was automated customer service options, but you didn’t want to fire your support people. Maybe there was automated HR software—or accounting software—but you didn’t want to fire your people who helped you build the business. But once you have to let them go anyway, you’ll absolutely be using those new tools if you are lucky enough to be able to rebuild.
So that’s the idea: an evolution burst as we come out of the slowdown (whenever that is).
Let’s look at some other ideas or trends in society that were likely to happen anyway that could get accelerated by COVID:
- The Adoption of Automation and AI: Companies use more non-human options to handle the routine parts of their business (see above)
- Basic Income: More people are out of work and they need income for basic survival, or some freedom to invest in growing themselves into a better career
- Business Consolidation: Even before COVID we were seeing bookstores and grocery stores closing in favor of Amazon and Walmart, and we’re about to see that trend accelerated and magnified as the pressure on small players increases. When some massive percentage of the small players have to close, only the few at the top will remain
- Pervasive Surveillance, in the Name of Health Safety: Goverments and corporations have been trying for decades to use terrorism as the reason we have to monitor the public as much as possible, but the arguments have become thin with the public due to few actual wins. That all changes now because people will happily support surveillance if they believe it will stop the next pandemic
- The Rise of Audience-supported Influencers: More people develop followings doing their particular thing, and each of those people pays them a small amount per month or year to get their content
- The Rise of Esports: Esports gets even more popular—and faster—because of the downtime for traditional sports. And more people can participate and observe in more types of competitions outside the constraints of reality
- Millions of People Choosing Game Reality Instead of Legacy Reality: Given the natural tendency for income and wealth disparity in the real world (Piketty), combined with the massive jumps in gaming and human-computer interfaces in coming years, a lot of people are going to decide that they’d rather live in a fantasy world than the real one. Their Universal Income will be used to pay rent, food, and their gaming subscriptions, and pretty much everything that matters to them will happen in-game.
That last one is the one that will take longest, but it’s perhaps the most important and impactful. These games will increasingly become long-arc heroic journeys for people and small groups, where you start weak and oppressed and over many years become the (or one of) the heroes in that given world.
Imagine you and your closest three friends become the only superheroes on the planet, and you’re fighting for the survival of the species—but where you getting your powers and spinning up to the final fights takes multiple years.
So it’s not you and 2,000 other strangers in an MMORPG where everyone has equal powers. No. You and your friends are the special ones. And there are bad people. And you are the ones who have the most important relationships, the most important battles, and the deepest meaning in the entire world.
That’s the future of gaming. Not because it’s cool (which it is), but because it most closely maps onto the Meaning Loop that Evolution placed into each of our brains. In THAT world, we’re winning. In THAT world, we matter.
This is why a global pandemic can serve as a catalyst and accelerator for such a transition. It’s just one more thing making reality worse for most people, and meanwhile tech advancement continues to make digital escape more appealing.
Anyway, that one’s a way out still, but it’s already started for many. Notice how many young males aren’t counted in the unemployment numbers because they’re not even looking for work. They’re too busy winning in a different world.
As for automation taking jobs, people becoming their own income source through direct patronage, and governments handing out Basic Income to keep populations controlled—those are far more near-term and pressing.
Again, they were going to happen anyway, but this will likely hasten the transition.