Yes, eventually, but as said repeatedly here, the Pandemic is far from over, and this particularly so in the rush by governments, corporations and unions to “return to business”. We cannot and we will not return to the way it was last Fall.
We cannot because many of those employers are no longer in business and/or could not be viable if they were to re-open. Why?
- because for some old era businesses the customers have departed for good. Ordering online for delivery to the door now appeals to more people ordering more items in more categories, so the pace of permanent closures of brick-and-mortar stores is accelerating;
- some firms will find that employees they laid off do not want to return. They may have found other jobs, decided to retire or otherwise leave the work force permanently (especially older ones who now fear the workplace);
- others, such as restaurants or stores that depend on a certain minimum average load of customers will find that meeting health restrictions on the number of customers in the facility at once and making a profit are incompatible, i.e. that it is impossible to make money at all;
We will not because the old normal has gone, and a new normal will take a few years to establish.
And, most important, and in accord with what the Spy has been saying since 1983 when this column started, the economic case to automate and replace human workers with robots now grows ever more compelling. Robots attract a one time capital cost, are easily trained and re-trained, can work 24-7, need no breaks, don’t have contracts, never make demands, don’t attract payroll taxes, within some limits don’t care about working conditions, never need vacations, and now, more important than ever, they don’t get sick.
Riots in the streets
There is an old maxim that suggests riots begin more or less inevitably once unemployment his 12%. It is already considerably higher, and like to increase, so why is anyone surprised?
Yes, yes, it’s that modern and very artificial bugaboo of “race” that provided the trigger, but when this large a percentage of the population is idle and has slim prospects of changing anything, a lot less than a white policeman being responsible for the death of a black man would have done as well (or as badly).
But for the record, and to repeat something said here and elsewhere many times: The Spy has never been able to understand why anyone cares about the colour of a person’s skin, any more than the colour of one’s eyes or hair. The idea that any of these inconsequential things makes a person an inherently superior or inferior human being is utter rubbish, albeit sometimes one does find it dressed up in pseudo-scientific or pseudo-religious falsehoods. Genetically and Biblically, the only race is the human race.
But these riots are only partly about skin. Mostly they are about despair (which is not unconnected). So, again, do not expect them to go away–no matter how much force is applied against the rioters. This is more a class conflict than anything else, so expect such unrest in most countries unless and until employment returns to near full levels again–and that may take years. What will be left of the current government order by then? Can democracy survive? Can the badly torn American empire survive yet more fractures?
Densification–cause or victim
It has become the fashion for politicians to preach densification as the solution to the economic woes of modern living. (Translation: The more people we pack into a smaller space the more taxes we can collect for the infrastructure we must provide per capita.)
NOT, and this for several reasons:
- the real economic cost of cities is never fully appreciated and accounted for. More people require more infrastructure per capita, not less. Development cost charges for creating new lots (whatever may be erected on them) are seldom close to the additional strain of funding public facilities such as police, fire, utilities and road infrastructure, parks, recreation, and community amenities such as schools and churches. This ignorance may be partly deliberate. After all the profit of developers is more important than the welfare of the city (NOT).
- it ruins ever more land for any other purpose.
- it greatly distorts the housing market, forcing younger people out of the cities, and older people out of their houses and onto the streets;
- packing ever more people into downtown cores concentrates social problems, thereby increasing not just their visibility but their prevalence and so tending to rot out that core from within;
- it results in far more efficient transmission of disease (bacterial, viral, financial and social).
As a case in point, where the Spy lives in rural Abbotsford BC, the politicians who govern local municipalities (in most places commercial folk whose elections are often fuelled by donations from developers and business interests) have been in love with densification for years. A city core grows, agricultural land is swallowed, homelessness and drug addiction increase, taxes jump dramatically every year (far more than wages), yet police, fire protection and other services decline in effectiveness, and the quality of life diminishes. Their short-sighted and foolhardy solution: demand more land for for industrial use because it pays more tax.
So, when we all cower in tiny urban cages packed into high rise buildings with not a tree, bird, or animal to be seen through the smog, the once rural area is all paved or gravelled over, covered with truck parking lots and automated industries, and disease runs rampant, what then shall our children say about the quality of life and of the decisions their forebears made? Sorry would-be social engineers. Densification is a well-proven road to dystopia, not utopia. Ask the seniors warehoused in crowded and underfunded care facilities.
Forsaking the assembling of yourself together
is a major symptom of COVID. In the short term, this has meant:
- no conventional school or university;
- no concerts or sports events;
- fear of travel in crowded airplanes or the densified cities called cruise ships;
- that large urban shopping centres whose whole business model depended on being a focal point for crowds of customers can no longer function;
- the indefinite cancellation of Church community worship, excepting those in the odd position of having an auditorium large enough and a congregation small enough to allow tem to run, say, two meeting times each with fewer then 50 people in a room big enough for a few hundred at least.
- the tourist industry will take years to recover;
- if and when a universal vaccine is available and widely distributed, perhaps by this time next year, (don’t let the Spy get started on that anti-vax or other conspiracy nonsense) concerts and sporting events may slowly recover their audiences–until the next time–but eventually large assembly places will vanish, and all such happenings will be attended electronically;
- schools and universities may never be the same again;
- churches will downsize into more numerous but much smaller and safer gatherings.
And, what about the tech industry?
For, after all this is a technology and futurist column.
The Pandemic has revealed the short-sightedness of situating too much manufacturing capacity in remote developing countries. COVID has disrupted both the making and the transporting of goods. Yes, it can be cheaper that way, but more manufacturing will have to be done at home–moving many jobs to the domestic scene, although a large percentage will ultimately be filled by robots, not human beings. At first this will increase costs; eventually it will reduce them.
As with all other times of change, some companies, and even whole economic sectors will vanish and be replace by new ones–jobs along with them. After all, who remembers when telephone operator, stenographer or key-punch typist were among the most common jobs? Who will remember when truck driver was?
In the industries that do survive, there will be much consolidation, with larger firms swallowing the next lower tier, and many smaller start ups arriving on the scene. Apple will survive because of its enormous cash reserves, many other large and small firms will not.
Many of these things were going to happen anyway, but COVID has accelerated the pace of change. Indeed, a return to “normal” will be relative, not absolute, for the new normal will be littered with change, and the wreckage of the old. Only God is constant, but modern society has written Him out of its script. Thus, the social plot sickens, and for that the only vaccine does not originate in a pharmaceutical laboratory.
One more time around for the MacBook Pro 16 inch
portable that the Spy has been using for the last couple of months. Apple recently updated Catalina, and to put the most positive possible spin on things, the machine no longer gets hot enough to burn one’s fingers. However, it does at random intervals forget it has a screen (much less three) and either flashes the screen(s) or goes dark altogether, the only remedy being a forced reboot (with loss of some work).
The Spy finds this completely unacceptable and downgrades the whole kit and kaboodle from a “B” to a “D”. At the moment it is the most frustrating and unreliable computer system he has ever used (shades of the PCJr). Recommendation: Don’t buy until Apple can fix the wake-sleep cycle once and for all. He plans to switch to using old desktop MacPros from the 2010-2012 era and stuff the laptop into a briefcase for a very long sleep indeed. He’s got a 2015 15″ portable and a 2008 a 17″ portable of his own he can use. There are no airplanes to fly on and nowhere to fly to anyway. Sheesh!
Rehab and hacker project for this coming month is getting Thunderbolt 3 working on one of those old towers. He thinks he knows a way even if Apple doesn’t. After all he once got Apple ][ machines running Dos 3.3 to read and write 3.5 inch disks–something Apple said was impossible only because they had no one around who cared enough to read and understand the OS assembler code.
See you next month, DV.
–The Northern Spy
Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics, Assistant Dean of Science, and Chair of the University Senate at Canada's Trinity Western University. He completed his fiftieth year as a high school and university teacher in 2020. He has been involved as a member of or consultant with the boards of several organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and ten alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His various columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), since the early 1980s, and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 2019 and have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. since 1972.
URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Arjay Enterprises:
The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com
opundo : http://opundo.com
Sheaves Christian Resources : http://sheaves.org
WebNameHost : http://www.WebNameHost.net
WebNameSource : http://www.WebNameSource.net
nameman : http://nameman.net
General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Books:
Author Site: http://www.arjay.ca
Publisher’s Site: http://www.writers-exchange.com/Richard-Sutcliffe.html
The Fourth Civilization–Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed. ): http://www.arjay.bc.ca/EthTech/Text/index.html
Other URLs of relevant interest:
BC Government COVID site: http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19
TWU COVID Info: https://www.twu.ca/covid-19-information
Aberdeen Baptist lessons and Sermons: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4DbcQZJphc1oH7icCUBTJg
URLs for products mentioned:
Apple MacBook Pro: https://www.apple.com/ca/macbook-pro-16/