Post-Covid Life, Part I

The Optimist Edition

In the summer and fall of 2008, I wrote a book entitled Law School 2.0: Legal Education for a Digital Age. It was about the mix of forces converging on legal education at the time, and offered some suggestions for how we could deal with them. Just after I finished writing it, the country entered a period of financial recession which I once heard referred to as “the Econolypse,” which ended up accelerating many of the predictions I made for legal education in the book. In the years that followed, several people asked me some version of: “Do you have a crystal ball or something?”

While that was a nice thing to say (I think?), my answer was always no. Or rather, I do have a crystal ball, but it’s always cloudy, like it is for most of us. As the great physicist Niels Bohr said:

Prediction is very difficult, especially of the future.

But while writing that book, I did have the feeling of the crystal ball clearing, just a bit, for the brief time I was writing it. It was frankly a little spooky, and I wrote as fast as I could so it would not go away before I finished the book. As I work on the new book - a follow up to Law School 2.0 - I look for the same clearing, and hope it will arrive, with the muses.

Meanwhile, I have been thinking a lot about how life will be different, generally speaking, post-Covid. For these purposes, I will define “post-Covid” as a time when we have herd immunity in the U.S. - and even in much of the world - and while SARS-CoV-2 might be “endemic” in the population, it will be no more - and perhaps even less - dangerous than the flu. I do this with Bohr’s admonition in mind, and the inherent futility of trying to force the ball to clear. And I am acutely aware that these predictions will live forever in the ether, and I may have to beat a hasty retreat from them one day. But this topic is acutely important to us as educators, because it will influence how our students present to us in the classroom, as well as what is happening to them outside of the classroom.

As a place to start, it is a fairly common and even obvious observation to make that this pandemic has reminded us of our interconnectedness. That is no small thing. When I was young, my mother was friends with a man who traveled to China, Russia, Japan, and even Antarctica. We were pretty sure he was in the CIA, actually, although of course he never mentioned that, and we never asked. But he brought back pictures - in a Kodak slide carousel - that he would show us after a family dinner. Going such places was pretty novel in the 1960s and 70s. In contrast, we have flights landing from all corners of the globe every day at airports around the U.S., and the internet connects so much of the world virtually. We are deeply and irrevocably connected to our fellow members of the human race around the globe. If we did not know this before - fully - we certainly do now.

I believe this will lead to more cooperation between countries, at the very least on public health matters. With the benefit of some hindsight - and reduction in the current crisis mode of operation - it seems overwhelmingly likely that every country will realize that they were: 1) unprepared, and 2) ill-equipped to deal with such a disease. International cooperation on public health is a virtually required place to start fixing that, but this could lead to other forms of cooperation, and I think it will.

For the survivors, there will be a combined sense of guilt and gratitude for getting through it alive. The guilt will need to be addressed, but for once mental health has been a broad topic of conversation, and we have learned techniques for supporting it and protecting it (such as mindfulness and meditation). An increase in gratitude practice around the world could only be a good thing. And there will be real joy in spending time again with family and friends once again. I hope, and expect, this will last for a considerable time. Those of us who lived through this period will always have with us an acute sense of the loss of more than a year with family and friends.

Grief - overwhelming grief - for not only lost loved ones, but also a kind of grief the human population has never experienced on such a scale before: grief over lost opportunities: bat and bar mitzvas, quinceañeras, graduations, weddings, funerals - the ceremonial events that mark our lives and help to give them shape and meaning. We will have to learn how to manage this kind of grief and loss, not to mention the kinds of inexplicable grief around senseless gun violence we have all too often experienced around the world - before and after Covid.

Many restaurants have closed, but others have tenaciously hung on, and innovated with drive up service and igloos on the sidewalk or parking lot. I think we will have a period when the surviving restaurants slooowly recover, and then boom and thrive as people rediscover the joy of having someone else cook and clean up, at least occasionally.

The Arts - especially museums and concerts - seem to be surviving by a thread and by dint of contributions from long-time supporters. And they have developed creative and innovative ways of connecting with a remote audience that will last for many years. From the Colorado Symphony’s Play On campaign we had numerous outreach efforts, and their virtual Ode to Joy has thousands of views on YouTube. Ballet, Opera, and museums around the world have all built new ways to reach the public, and these I believe will become a regular part of their business model (see this week’s Recommendation below for another example). Our Arts organizations will be well patronized and supported as we learn how close they came to being so heavily damaged or destroyed, and we begin to contemplate how poor our future might have looked without them.

That’s enough for now - more on the Post-Covid future in next week’s letter to you.

Letters of Recommendation

My letter of recommendation this week is an illustration of the way that arts organizations have innovated in spectacular ways to remain relevant in a world they could not have imagined: long-term closure. It is a series of videos entitled “Cocktails with a Curator” at the Frick Collection in New York City. The curator selects a work from the Collection and selects a cocktail to go with it. For the full effect, make that cocktail and enjoy one of these in the evenings. Each entry in this series is good - even great - but I can in particular recommend this one about the famous Hans Holbein portrait of Sir Thomas More that is part of the collection at the Frick.

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Q of the Week

The Q of the Week this week is Quote from Michael Chasen, a co-founder of Blackboard, the widely used Learning Management System:

[Covid] has sped the adoption of technology in education by easily five to 10 years. You can’t train hundreds of thousands of teachers and millions of students in online education and not expect there to be profound effects.