5 Dystopian Trends Being Accelerated by the Pandemic
If George Orwell could see us now
The COVID-19 pandemic was the earthquake that shook the ground beneath our feet for months on end. It disrupted our lives in ways that most of us have never experienced before, destroying entire institutions and ways of thinking, while simultaneously giving new ones the chance to flourish.
In all likelihood, we will feel the aftershocks for the rest of our lives.
There are a lot of names for everything we just went through: The Great Pause of 2020, The Year of the Cough, The New Normal, to name a few. Whatever you want to call it, this past year has changed absolutely everything. Virus and health crisis aside, the pandemic has had a knock-on effect on other parts of like including our politics, economy and social issues. You name it, COVID ‘ll puIchanged it.
As we start to make sense of everything that happened (and is still happening), we ought to be careful with this new normal that’s emerging before our eyes. There are certain new trends that, because of how quickly they materialized, are a little too reminiscent of our favorite dystopian novels.
That’s why today, we’ll be looking at five pandemic trends that we should we wary of as they snowball into our lives.
1. Tracking is the new normal
With more people working and living online these days, it is becoming easier than ever before for governments and companies to track our activity.
Netflix’s The Social Dilemma sparked a lot of discussion earlier last year for revealing how Big Tech collects and uses our data. Their powerful, ever-changing algorithms can influence everything from how we shop to who we vote for.
Although both of these things are alarming, it’s not just about how we’re being influenced and commoditized by other organizations. It’s about what the future of privacy looks like for the average person after the pandemic — and if privacy could become a thing of the past.
Slowly but surely, we’re granting these institutions the right to know absolutely everything about us. Today, we take our privacy for granted because it’s never been used against us — but once we relinquish it, there’s no going back.
With everything continuing to take place online, this trend will only accelerate with time. I don’t know about you, but it’s all starting to feel very Black Mirror.
2. The demise of small business
Small businesses are the lifeline of our communities. They’re crucial to the existence of a prosperous economy and healthy middle class. But due to continuous pandemic shutdowns, most of them are in crisis.
Many small businesses have closed permanently, while others are on the brink of collapse. Yelp data revealed that nearly 100,000 establishments in the US alone were permanently out of business as of September 2020. I can’t imagine what that number looks like today.
Meanwhile, many giant corporations have seen exponential growth in the last year. Just as an example, Amazon had a pre-pandemic valuation of $920 billion, but they’re now worth nearly double that amount: $1.6 trillion.
No one can say with certainty whether small businesses will make a comeback after the pandemic. Many entrepreneurs have been put off from starting businesses due to the sheer difficulty of it right now. Additionally, consumers have grown accustomed to shopping online with big retailers, so this habit may endure even after the pandemic. Finally, there is the worry that big companies will buy small businesses up for pennies on the dollar and only continue to gain power.
3. Big Tech and censorship
Though not a pandemic trend per se, this one still fits into the theme of overall chaos from the past year.
As you may have heard, Facebook and Twitter have recently banned Donald Trump from their platforms. Whether you love or hate the man, this isn’t necessarily about him. It’s about a dangerous precedent being set for how Big Tech controls the spread of information. If Facebook and Twitter can shut down the President of the United States, what’s to stop them from shutting down all of our voices if it becomes convenient?
Given how important social media is for grassroots movements, this is something we should all take more seriously. After all, when Big Tech controls how we communicate and share information, they control the metanarrative of our society.
4. The rich are getting richer
Elon Musk recently made headlines for becoming the wealthiest person in the world. Not only has he done well, but all of the world’s billionaires increased their wealth during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve estimated that six out of ten households don’t have enough money saved to cover three months of living expenses.
Even in a pandemic, it seems the rich keep on getting richer — all despite the fact that everybody knows a strong middle class is key to a healthy, enduring economy.
Despite this, it’s more than a little ironic that in the process of trying to save lives from a pandemic, we’re inadvertently killing the middle class and vulnerable groups. We can only hope this economic downturn is temporary and that we’ll be able to re-balance once the immediate crisis is over.
5. The aims of big corporations align with activists
On the surface, it was heartwarming to see big corporations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement earlier last year. Back then, every corporation was releasing value statements and promising to take action against systemic racism. But now that some time has passed, how many of them are still actively involved?
Coming from the marketing world, the cynic in me questions whether this was all a PR stunt — especially given how many of these companies continue to do business that oppresses Black Americans. As long as they release a few statements on social media, these corporations can justify continuing to profit from things like child labor, environmental destruction, tax avoidance, political lobbying…the list goes on.
The truth of the matter is, there’s no way to know when these corporations have genuine intentions or not — we can only continue to hold them to high standards. While some companies are trying to make a difference, there will always be others that act only because they know they have to.
Therefore, it should always raise a red flag when the interests of big corporations align with the aims of progressive activists on issues like these.
Though these dystopian-esque trends have been on the rise for some time, they have without a doubt been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. When things change as quickly as they have in the last year, it’s easy to blink and realize you’re living in a very different society than what you’re used to.
Just like the world changed after 9/11, our post-pandemic world will be different, too. Fortunately, us humans have an innate resilience and ability to adapt, so I’m hopeful we’ll find a way around these challenges.
Now, more than ever, we need to make sure the future we rebuild once the pandemic is over, is a bright and prosperous one for everybody.