A new normal: Imagining a future world without COVID-19

Illustration of a person worriedly envisioning a future of continued isolation due to Covid-19.
Armaan Mumtaz/Staff

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Most of us can’t help but long for the day when the world will be free of COVID-19. I personally daydream about what I’ll do when I can see friends I haven’t seen in months, where I will eat once my favorite restaurants are fully open and where in Berkeley I’ll explore. But more importantly, I imagine a world where my mother and her colleagues can go to work at the hospital without fear of getting the disease, where my grandparents, who have been forbidden to leave the house, can go out on their walks with friends and relatives, where hospitals are no longer stretched for resources and where watching the death toll rise on the news is a thing of the past.

If there’s one thing we all seem to agree on, it’s that living amid a pandemic is the “new normal,” whatever that means. COVID-19 has become the defining event of the generations living right now. And while it’s fun to see all the memes about how we would describe the pandemic to our kids, it really does make us wonder, “What is this new normal going to look like?”

On one hand, the pandemic has banded communities and individuals together to help and support those in need. On the other, it has also revealed deep cracks in the system in nations around the world. While the pandemic has highlighted immense human resilience, it’s also compounded our weaknesses as a species. So are we going to learn from our mistakes moving forward?

In many ways, technology has enabled us to stay more connected than ever before. Last week, my professor for one of my cognitive science classes invited Dr. David Feinberg to give a lecture. Feinberg is a leading scientist heading the innovation of next-generation 7T MRI imaging, which would revolutionize neuroimaging like never before. This week, we met Dr. Jack Gallant, a celebrated computational neuroscientist. These opportunities to hear from leading innovators may not have been possible in the pre-pandemic era, when guest lecturers may have been limited by factors such as time, scheduling and borders. Similarly, many clubs on campus that regularly host panels or guest speakers now feature a variety of renowned guests from all over the world! In fact, scientific and industry conferences are also being held online now. Those who may not have been able to previously attend because of travel costs, family commitments and other factors are now able to do so from the comfort of their homes.

Should we try to implement such technology-driven solutions even when things go back to the way they were when classes and conferences were in person? Will professors have guest lecturers who can talk virtually from wherever they are, or will we be again limited to a select few? Will conferences implement an online-viewing option, or will it again be restricted to those who can physically make it?

Similarly, other job industries have adapted to online working challenges and are thriving. Do you think that in the future, they will allow for the option of working from home?

I guess at the end of the day, all we can do is wait and see.

Contact Nandita Radhakrishnan at [email protected].