I’ve recently found interest in big generational shifts that often happen due to relatively quick and unforeseen events. In times of balance and order, human behavior is that of habit that consistently seeks out convenience and comfort. However, events like the COVID-19 epidemic have helped dramatically shift behaviors.
Historically, there’s always been a range of these types of events: they could be something in your own personal (sub)culture, or much broader and wide-sweeping like Medieval plagues. CORVID-19 simultaneously changed reinforced habits around hand-washing/hygiene, the idea of remote working in a Chinese work culture that demands presence, and the accelerated exploration of other means of production and logistics beyond China.
With regards to popular culture, there are several moments that we’ve seen play out in the last decade or so: The 2008 and 2009 financial crisis created a huge opportunity for legacy and heritage brands who sold products based on honesty and quality (cue the Red Wings and Pendleton) Cannabis legalization has driven down overall alcohol consumption. The rise of ride-sharing has resulted in a reduced number of people getting driver’s licenses. The focus on the nuclear family has had broader societal and psychological implications while also creating wealth.
These are things few people could have easily predicted. Some events occur suddenly like an outbreak or a terrorist attack, while others are the by-product of new technologies that shape everyday life over an extended period. Nevertheless, reconciling the opportunities ahead with human psychological needs is both exciting and scary: It’s exciting in the sense that there’s a historical track record of how movements can succeed and be emulated. But this track record can also serve as a playbook, that we all have access to and can be used as a means for both good and bad.
As much as we believe humanity in 2020 to be the all-time smartest and most informed cohort, we still fall victim to a lot of old tricks. Emotional states of consciousness can override our capacity for complex reasoning — the crucial element that defines us and separates us from the rest of the organisms on this planet — and are the very reason we’re still so easily triggered and manipulated. Herein lies the power of history and understanding that more often than not, history will always stand a chance of repeating itself, for better or worse.
Properly harnessing this knowledge, however, also requires of us the due diligence of checking facts and seeking the undistorted truth as much as we can. As Mark Twain once chirped, “history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” Although we couldn’t predict the black swans that lurk through the pages of history (or the ones to come), some form of prior events and behaviors will reappear in new ways. As our habits change through shifts, perhaps this is a reminder for us all to continuously observe our own automatic behaviors and question whether it is indeed time for change.