Time was, you could go to work, take classes, visit relatives, and maybe even watch a movie, all without staying at home. In the COVID-19 era, these have all become online activities. Leaving home is reserved for shopping (which we can also do online) and — in extremis — going to the hospital. For everything else, there’s the internet.
We’ve been living with (and on) the internet for three decades now, but so far it’s always been a supplementary reality, a little something extra that spices up our otherwise humdrum offline lives. Not anymore. Now, the tables have turned: the important things in life are mostly online, while the formerly ‘real’ world is relegated to the less essential activities of not exercising enough and eating too much.
If the coronavirus crisis represents a turning point in history, this is it. Forget geopolitics, neo-nationalism, and that hackneyed bugbear, the future of liberal international order. The big coronavirus moment is virtual. Before the virus, the offline world was primary, the online world secondary. Since the virus, the online world has become the real reality.
The offline world has been reduced to the status of a residual, legacy reality that is on the way out but must still be maintained because many people and organizations have not updated. When the pandemic has passed, the default option will be to stay online. Only those who can’t manage or can’t afford to upgrade will stick with the old ways of doing things. And they will become increasingly marginalized as the 2020s move forward.
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