Thanks, Darth Vader! Now I am a Remote Worker
Viral bodies rain down from the mother ship. Earth is closed.
As the viral air fleet masses just outside the exosphere, that cheesy Darth Vadar wheezes through his mask as if sucking air from an aqualung. The Empire is striking back.
Working From Home
Some say it’s the end of work as we know It. No doubt, the big corporations with their huge resources can weather the storm, unlike hundreds of thousands of small stores, service businesses and restaurants who may have shut their doors for good. One thing is certain: nothing will be quite the same. Remember the Spanish Flu (which probably started in France or Britain through returnee soldiers), the 500 million infected and close to 50 million dead? More people died through the influenza pandemic of 1918 than in the rat-infested trenches at Verdun, Gallipoli, Ypres, Passchendaele or the Somme. The pandemic swooped down on defenseless Spain, making it the epicentre of decimation spreading worldwide. History repeats. Just three months ago Italy and Spain were in the same historical fix, struck down by the Corona light sabre during the first wave of deaths and are still ranked high. As of June 1, 2020 Mother Earth has witnessed 6.15 million cases, led now by the United States, Brazil, Russia and the United Kingdom. Our science, technology and modern cures be more advanced. Notwithstanding, it’s a time those born after 1945 have never experienced — the closest thing to a world war.
This pandemic might have seemed like an enforced holiday from work at first, yet with income evaporating and the same overheads, will governments resort to handouts, medical care, food stamps and rationing? It’s already happening in a number of countries. The true economic downturn has not fully hit yet. The recovery will be long and painful. Poorer countries with desperately low income levels are going to come closer to starvation than privileged nations. It remains to be seen what kind of humanitarian aid will flow or get bottle-necked by bureaucracy. By the end of March the number of infections and Covid-19 deaths were still relatively low compared with recent major flu epidemics a Harvard professor, Marc Lipsich claims that 40–70 percent of the world’s population might be infected by next year. The steep U.S. death toll and threat of second-wave COVID-19 infections through “super-spreaders” in Wuhan, Korean, Sweden and Germany among other places shows we are not out of trouble by a long shot. That means remote work is here to stay as a public health measure In education, too, the word ‘homework’ has taken on a new meaning.
Pandemic or ‘Infodemic’?
There is no doubt that social media has kicked things up a notch or ten sharing the latest global reports, whether true or false news. We are glued to our smartphones and other devices, checking our media feeds while sitting at home without much to do, realizing for the first time, what ‘remote work’ or a virtual assistant really is. There is little doubt that after all this, we may not have the same resistance to working at home, studying online or hosting viewing parties with friends as a way of easing the tension and keeping up our quota of human contact. Now students are also doing online exams and in the future we are likely to see more remote or distant learning options and receptivity to virtual services like office work or financial accounting. Counselling and therapy sessions are obvious options that many in the coming times may need. At least, there is no travelling time involved, that’s if people have extra money to spend. Online legal restrictions and misgiving about ‘Big Data’ will ease as people adapt to remote living. Voting online will become a political necessity, despite President Trump’s protestations. Perhaps, we will see a boost in hologram tech, made famous by Princess Leia holographic message. Are these things healthy developments? It’s hard to say right now.
Staying motivated and learning to be your own timekeeper can be challenging for those ruled by determiners like office routine: there’s the the drill of getting to work on time and punctuating the day according to coffee-breaks and free-flow distractions until the big clock says you can be let out of the cage and go home. And now you can’t leave because of lock down. Have you set up a desk in the bedroom or do you use the kitchen table with kids squabbling underfoot. It’s not ideal. Or is it?
Millennials and Gen Z
The present global challenge definitely suits the millennial generation and the members of Gen Z, who are the future. According to Forbes.com, more than 50% are already freelancers. They have been well-drilled in school to learn word processing, Excel sheets, graphic design, video editing, coding and more. They find it easy to take up team video conferencing, use file transfer technology and productivity tools like Slack.
And is probably stating the obvious that gender issues are also now in sharper focus? Recent studies before Covid-19 indicate that 62 percent of women favour remote work while 53% of men prefer going to the workplace. Likewise 40% of females bemoaned the fact that they have to stick it out because companies haven’t, up until this point, allowed the possibility of remote or home-based work. No doubt, we are all playing a new game of home parenting with both at home. Is Dad sharing the domestic workload?
Computers Sales Spike
Computers and smartphone are now the gateway to governance, business and education. Investing in a better workstation isn’t a lifestyle choice. It will make you more productive. Fast data Internet and web hosting services are now a social right, not a privilege like clean water and power. Those who have a leg up with tech will survive better in life after the virus. Already personal computer sales have spiked as store shelves are stripped of laptops, according to The Wall Street Journal. Tech producers are grappling with supply-chain bottlenecks. Perhaps it’s all a blessing in disguise. Think of the time you’re saving on that laborious commute, staying in your pajamas until noon. As a remote worker, you don’t have to spend time remembering where you parked your vehicle or pay for parking fees. The chances are you have already cooked up a pot of chilli con carne and stored it in the freezer to last the week. Next week it will be…
Life Beyond the Virus
There will be a surge in ‘home-based work’ and companies won’t object. Indeed, one of the main goals of labour — giving us more free time arrived too early. Perhaps this is the start of forced early retirement and downsizing. After the virus, people will travel again but the notion of the ‘vacation’ will also be redefined. Remote work may mean greater flexibility to balance time for personal lives. Life after the virus could look very different and a step closer to economist predictions that claim that robots will take over 20 million factory jobs by 2030. It seemed far-fetched a year ago, but not now. Challenged by the economic downturn, big business will see the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to shake up their business model and increase the percentage of remote staff or downsize altogether. Darth Vader, AKA, the Grim Reaper is marshalling airships for virus drops before the invasion as we speak.
Remote Happiness or Something Else
We hope for greater freedom and worker happiness. Let’s be positive, but if ‘home-work’ becomes an excuse for squeezing more corporate profits by paying staff less or laying them off, then we are all moving fast toward scenarios depicted in movies like Soylent Green (1973) with its dystopian vision that conjured the spectre of murder, cannibalism, eco-disaster, totalitarianism, starvation, euthanasia and social chaos. Why does this old movie despite its melodramatic moments come to mind? It speaks to the idea of industrial automation and its impact on the future of human labour. Is remote work, then, just a stepping stone to mass redundancy or will the robot age make new jobs of a different kind? No one can quite say but the signs of massive change are there if we allow ourselves to contemplate what the world will be like in another decade or two based on what we are experiencing right now. During this pivotal moment in history the Covid-19 epidemic, as mentioned earlier is the closest thing we have to the mood of a global conflagration like World War I and World War II. If this sounds extreme, think about it. Both those events, for better or worse, re-calibrated society philosophically, artistically, ethically and technologically. The changes became a history of cultural transformation. Human consciousness shifted. Old beliefs and lifestyles altered en masse. We did not believe in the same things or the same ways as before. Our perspectives are shifting.
Enter Darth Vader
We know you are standing on the bridge of the Empire mother ship looking down on Mother Earth and rubbing your black gauntlet hands with glee, saying stupid stuff like ‘You are unwise to lower your defenses” or ““You have controlled your fear. Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me.” Without wanting to make light of the Covid-19 pandemic, at least we are all facing it together. Perhaps the best take away is the growing sense of shared experience and perhaps more social empathy rather than wasteful consumerism. We need to keep our cool and control the ‘infodemic’ while keeping on our masks in place. Yes, Darth, we have been forced to ape your ridiculous public face. You taught us all about masks a long time ago in a remote galaxy far, far away…