Uncertainty is the New Normal
Get ready to kiss your old life goodbye
Desperately Seeking Normal
A phrase that I’m hearing often is “finding the new normal”. With COVID-19 still a very real threat, our entire world has been thrown for a loop. It seems like everyone is waiting and searching for some level of certainty and routine to return. But it’s time to accept that uncertainty is the new normal.
Social distancing has forced some very dramatic changes to our daily lives, including school closures and remote work. Some of those may be temporary, but in many areas, we’re living through a tipping point. Slowly eroding barriers to change were just dynamited in the span of a few weeks.
Experts predict that COVID-19 will continue spreading for quite a while. Most of our largest outbreaks have happened in heavily populated areas so far, but many smaller communities are seeing their share of infections and deaths now, too. And on a per capita basis, the effects on rural communities and small towns can be much more dramatic.
So far, immunologists are telling us that relief isn’t coming soon. A vaccine could take years to develop. The 1 year estimates that are being thrown around in media describe an absolute best-case scenario, literally multiple times faster than humans have ever created an effective vaccine before. And either distribution of that vaccine or building up natural immunities in the population still would mean that we’re facing COVID-19 for several more years.
All of that makes returning to “normal” pretty unlikely.
The Tip of the Spear
Here’s the real kicker though: Normal was gone before COVID-19. Even if we weren’t dealing with a global pandemic and a never before seen economic reset, we’re facing a future of unimaginable uncertainty.
On a recent episode of the Reading for Your Life podcast, I looked at Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near. In it, he discusses the rapid advancement of technology in dozens of different ways, from automation & AI to nanobots & genetic engineering.
Scientists are implanting filaments in the human brain to accelerate learning and allow for direct brain-to-computer interfaces. Anti-aging researchers have successfully de-aged mice by using injections of young blood plasma, offering proof that age-related physical deterioration may not always be necessary. A team from Australia has announced so-called “hot qubits” with a process that allows for quantum computing at levels nearly 15 times hotter than was previously possible. The advancement potentially lowers the threshold for quantum computing from hundreds of millions of dollars to only thousands and could open the door to extremely rapid progress.
Every advancement, from artificial retinas to machine learning, means that our future won’t be like our past. If working from home or homeschooling kids for a few weeks has been disruptive, what happens when AIs optimize learning for children on a personalized basis or even import knowledge directly into a child’s brain? What happens as our current pandemic creates even more negative pressure on human jobs and encourages business to automate and extend into virtual spaces?
Uncertainty is the New Normal
We don’t know what the future will bring. That goes for nearly every aspect of our lives. We don’t know what the future of healthcare, education, or employment will look like. We didn’t know before COVID-19, and we certainly don’t after.
In many ways, the current pandemic is only accelerating trends that were already underway. Futurists are desperately trying to predict how our society will be reshaped in the next few years, but it’s mostly a guessing game at this point.
Whatever happens, you or I aren’t likely to get much say. We can only control how we respond as individuals.
Tony Robbins talks about the balance of certainty and uncertainty in our lives. Certainty can mean stability and hope for the future, but too much becomes a drudge. The advice to “try something spontaneous” is a treatment for too much certainty. But too much uncertainty means not knowing where you’ll sleep tonight or where your next meal is coming from.
We each have a personal preference for the certainty-uncertainty balance. And wherever you fall, it’s likely been disrupted lately. High certainty individuals have seen their retirement funds plummeting and may have lost a job. High uncertainty individuals have been told they can’t see other people and have been confined to their homes and forced into a daily routine.
We’re all desperately trying to find our balance again, but the new balance won’t be the old balance. We’re going to see a lot more disruption, economic turbulence, employment changes, and shifts in societal norms before this decade is over.
The only solution is to actively build the life we want.
We’re all rebuilding our lives right now, and we’re not likely to get all the pieces back in place before new changes shake the game board again. If we’ve ever had a chance to start over, get better, or think about what’s most important, it’s right now.
Our new normal will be filled with uncertainty for the foreseeable future, COVID-19 or not. But finding things in our lives that can be steady, like family, growth, and relationships, means that we can build bulwarks against the anxiety of outside stressors and weather the storm of the future.
The future may be uncertain but at least we can face it together.
Originally published at https://modernpolymaths.com on May 20, 2020.