Opinion: Did 2020 win?

Date published: 2021-01-05   — by Paul Murphy

Essentially, we might as well admit that 2020 beat the stuffing out of us. In retrospect, it’s given us a lot to think about, along with some hope, and maybe even a perspective that will help us live better lives. 

2020 Lockdowns

2020 saw the first widespread use of lockdowns and curfews since the Second World War. The lockdowns don’t appear to have met any of their stated goals, but they’ve certainly caused plenty of economic and psychological pain. Were they a good idea?

2020 Vaccines

Undeniably, 2020 forced us to accelerate the development of new vaccine technologies. My understanding of the underlying mechanics is poor, but I’ve read enough to know that the techniques that are being used to deliver Covid-19 immunity are potentially groundbreaking. So, assuming no nasty surprises, 2020 could end up being remembered as a year we took a great leap forward in medicine.

End of face-to-face in 2020

2020 almost certainly marks the end of most “obligatory” face-to-face meetings. It used to be a given that raising money without an in-person meeting was impossible. Certainly, it was previously unheard of to start a company with people you hadn’t physically met. In 2020, I did both. And I don’t expect to go back to the old way of doing things.

Grounded in 2020

I have lifetime privileges on American Airlines. I have had hundreds-of-thousands of accumulated miles on other airlines before the pandemic. In recent years, I averaged about a flight a week –half of which were long-haul. Not two years ago I flew from Rome to Taipei for a 30-minute meeting. Entirely, from the time I left until I returned home, I only slept on airplanes. Basically, that will never happen again. From today’s perspective, that kind of behavior seems both self-destructive and socially irresponsible. Essentially, from now on, only very important meetings will result in physical movement. We now know with certainty that virtual works.

Socialising in the future

But, that doesn’t of course mean that I’m not looking forward to events with other people. I’m desperate for museums, movies, theatre, and dancing. I even want to go to sporting events – whether or not I understand the rules. I’ll happily watch a game of Aussie rules football just to stand in a stadium with thousands of other people. The joy of physical proximity is something I never really appreciated until this year.

To sum up on 2020

When I consider everything we’ve done as a society, and everything we’ve learned as individuals, I’m struck by several dichotomies.

We seem to be redefining acceptable risk. We’ve tried to avoid spreading a virus by staying home, arguably an overly-cautious response to a small threat. Whether or not you agree, it’s a fact that we’ve never responded to a pandemic in such a conservative way. This response is now followed by a collective willingness to administer mostly-untested vaccines to entire populations, which seems like throwing caution to the wind. Whether or not you agree that this is a good idea, it’s a fact that we’ve never responded to a disease in such a radical way. Societies tend to become less tolerant of risk over time. 2020 has shown us both less and more tolerant. Strange. 

As individuals, we are experiencing equally conflicting urges. Many of us are swearing off face-to-face meetings while looking forward to more in-person events. So which is it? Do we want more or less human contact?

We are coming out of this pandemic very different human beings and very different societies. Is it for the better? I think so. I hope so. Good does not always come from suffering, but I’m optimistic that 2021 will show us the first rays of good to come from 2020. 

Maybe 2020 didn’t win after all.

About the Author

Paul Murphy’s software career has primarily focused on financial services and voice. On Wall Street he worked on a broad range of front and back office systems. He then became obsessed with the human voice as interface, building tools and applications that interacted with users over telephones. This obsession culminated in the founding of Clarify, which developed cutting edge speech recognition and language processing software for conversations. With Credmark, Paul is re-entering the finance space because he firmly believes that crypto is the foundation of the next global financial system.

This article does not constitute legal advice.

The opinions expressed in the column above represent the author’s own.

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Tags: 2020 | covid-19 | lockdown | vaccines

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