What Does “Productive” Mean Post-COVID?

This will be different from my normal posts, which tend to lean technical. This is something I’ve been struggling with for a while, and thought I would put it here. First, I want to discuss three relevant historical inflection points.

Industrial Revolution Riots

In the early 1800’s, the textile industry saw major upheaval, from skilled artisans that spent years in apprenticeships, to knitting machine operators. This also led to needing less workers; companies could produce clothes more cheaply, and weren’t sharing profits with their employees. As a result, workers were left with no means to support themselves, then took to the factories, smashed the knitting machines to pieces, and burned the factories to the ground.

To quote Andrew Yang: “We’ve experienced 10 years of change, in 10 weeks.” We are in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution, in which more repetitive tasks & decisions become automated. As a result of the global economic shutdown due to COVID-19, every company had to go remote if they wanted to keep people working. This transition has been in the works for quite a while, and COVID-19 just forced us to jump-start the timeline.

While the riots we’ve been dealing with were instigated by the passing of George Floyd, it’s my opinion that we’re dealing with deeper problems. Ever since the early 90’s, the financial agency of the average person in the U.S. has been shrinking; more people have been forced to work more jobs just to maintain survival & can’t afford a $400 emergency. Most people don’t lash out violently unless they feel that they have no other recourse.

Spanish Flu

I’m sure most people are done with hearing the comparisons to the Spanish Flu, and currently performing in the Eye-Roll Olympics. However, I feel obligated to at least mention it.

The Great Depression

It was tough finding definitive numbers for this section, but as of this writing, the best I could find was between 32 & 48 million people are currently out of work. Due to the delay, over-loaded unemployment systems, and the way the government classifies someone as “unemployed,” I (sadly) think this problem is under-reported. Now, that many people out of work due to a pandemic would be bad enough. However, we’re also going through the 4th Industrial Revolution; while we can argue about the percentage of jobs that won’t be coming back until we’re blue in the face, I’m willing to bet that it’s a significant, non-zero number.

Yeah…And…?

Why bring all of this up? We’re dealing with aspects of each of those historical touchstones all at once, with the volume turned-up. Each one of us is needing to process all of the above to some degree, taking-up mental bandwidth. The best analogy I could think of is a $200 laptop that’s already playing Netflix & running a full system backup (not overloaded but struggling a bit), then gets hacked into & runs a graphics-heavy video game (hello, Epic Crash City).

After working through my initial shock, I’ve found myself pushing to be at the same productivity level as I was before the lockdowns, only to get a figurative “blue screen of death” from my brain, which then invites the anxiety hamsters to run on their wheels. I’m sure that I’m not the only one that feels this way or dealing with this.

Now, if our human value wasn’t so coupled to our economic value, I wonder if I would even pose this question…

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