Prabhakar Mundkur
Guest Article

The ‘new normal' is now the ‘old normal’

It has become quite fashionable during CE (COVID era) to call everything the ‘new normal’. It's almost as if mankind has made a stunning new discovery.

When, in fact, most of the things in the 'new normal' were things that we were already doing for the last many years, if not decades. Take Zoom, for example. The new normal is a Zoom call? And the number of Zoom calls reflects your new normal? I don’t think so. Zoom was established on April 21, 2011, and launched its software in 2013, seven years ago, in BC (before COVID). In fact, I did two online courses with IDEO in 2016 (took a few months) and we only used Zoom for both our training sessions and group work. Of course, no one had heard of Zoom then, and when I mentioned it, people looked at me quizzically.

The ‘new normal' is now the ‘old normal’

Then the other thing that comes up for discussion is work from home, now elegantly shortened to WFH. For most freelancers, this is an old hat, something that they have always been doing. My wife worked from home for 10 years, and that was 10 years ago. She went to office only if there was an important meeting with a client.

Another friend I know has always had one day in the week designated for WFH. When my neighbour’s son didn’t get his H-1B visa a few months ago, his firm in the US told him that he could go to India and WFH. He would still keep drawing his US salary. A few months later, he did get his H-1B visa, but now he can’t fly, unfortunately.

Take maids, for example. Not having maids is the new normal. But we forget that the rest of the world never had maids. It still doesn’t, and won’t, have maids in future. Yes, there are also working women with two children and a dog, and they manage their lives quite successfully without maids, dog walkers and drivers. Of course, their families divide their work equally. The husband doesn’t just do Zoom calls, while the wife slogs away cooking and doing other domestic work. Her burden has increased. No wonder the first thing on her mind at the end of the lockdown is how to get her maid back once again. That incidentally would be the old normal.

Even the apparent Cold War between the superpowers is not new. After all, we were brought up in the Cold War days. Ever since Ian Fleming created the immutable James Bond, we have been brought up on a steady diet of spy stories from the Cold War. The end of the Cold War killed the spy story.

Instead of focusing on the new normal, a friend of mine says we need to focus on the ‘next’ normal. What are those, one might ask? Well, life might not be the same again, isn’t it? We will want contactless ATMs, for example. Of course, the security officer at ATMs insisted on the customers sanitising their hands before approaching the ATM and, no doubt, the ATM itself is being sanitised regularly. But a lot of banks, for what it’s worth, are still in the old normal.

What about restaurants? A Japanese pub actually sprays you with sanitiser before entering. And the restaurants have to maintain social distancing, which means the regular one metre distance between diners, which in turn means fewer tables. Could that be the future of restaurants? Cardboard cutouts of people just to make you feel the restaurant is crowded, with a little bit of ambient crowd noise coming from the restaurant's sound system?

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was turned away from her favourite restaurant, Olive in Wellington, because there weren’t enough tables. Another friend from the pharmacy sector says assume that every surface is contaminated. And that every person you meet could be asymptomatic. Does that sound like the next normal? What will our next vacation look like? Will we need to go on Elon Musk’s spaceship to get our next hug on a distant planet like Mars? Is the Hyperloop the future of transportation?

The picture at the beginning of this article is the cover of an Italian magazine called the Domenica del Corriere. It was an Italian weekly newspaper, which ran from 1899 to 1989. It came out every Sunday free with Corriere della Sera, but was also sold separately. It was famous for its cover drawings, and its issues are still collected. The artist of this cover was imagining the next normal. The Segway was introduced in 2001. But the Segway on this cover goes one step further. Because it has a enclosed capsule that creates social isolation. This artist was obviously imagining a pandemic.

So, the next time you use the words ‘new normal’, think again. You might be just sounding a little outdated.