Covid-19 has spawned a new version of globalization – A (mostly) better one

Covid-19 Has Spawned a New Version of Globalization – A (mostly) Better One Ilana Treston and Andy Friedman The world has never felt smaller and yet more global, for good and bad. Never before has every country had to deal with the same threat, though they each have very different starting points in terms ideologies, institutions, financial, industrial and emotional reserves. Never before have we had such a super-speeded-up-border-crossing flow of information about one issue. No one government, irrespective of its power base, can turn its back on that flow – we are learning from each other like a series of sentient petri dishes all locked into a lab. Fear is dangerous, but it is also a great catalyst to change. This pandemic is truly global - not just in how its reach, not only in how we are coping with it, but also in how we will recover from it.

The new globality – coping

Our nationalistic walls are shooting up as we try to use tried-and-true quarantine measures to slow down the spread. But those walls are also more porous than ever. Governments may be dancing the same old dances, but the music of a hundred different tunes is coming through the walls and we are all stumbling about as we learn new, and often common, steps.

We’re all watching each other like scared but jealous neighbors. We track each other’s disease data, economic reactions, civil unrest and shows of civil support. We aren’t just looking at what’s going on in our own yard or even our backyard. This is an experience that is being shared on a global scale.

We keep asking – what have Germany, South Korea, Hong Kong done right? What went wrong in Italy, in the UK, the US, Brazil…? What was the difference in countries who had a lighter first wave and a harsh second wave? How can we do better? How can we remain human, protect the future, shield the weak, adapt, adjust, survive and thrive…?

And we are asking all this in nanoseconds. We want to learn everything new there is to learn from every corner of this newly tortured globe. Even as our health systems are drowning in viral loads, while our health personnel are the veritable “kids-with-their-fingers-in-the-dyke”, our expectations have utterly shifted in this short period of time.

All those corporate organizational development buzz words – adaptable, agile, resilient – this is what is on display. (though another buzzword, engagement, is precisely what is being shaken, just as it has been is in the corporate world for years).

But most impressive is that we are addressing all of this on a global scale – nations, institutions, corporations, societies, are becoming more than ever moving units weaving around one challenge. National boundaries are powerful, and proving to be important to cope with the overall challenge, but the global tapestry is one – you slice part of it with a knife, it affects the whole weave.

We see evidence of this agility and resilience on a day-by-day, minute-by-minute basis:

  • We need more personal protective equipment (PPE)? In March-April we saw all the first signs of scarcity panic, including hoarding, price gouging, and a brutal race between government logistical branches to snag whatever PPE supplies they could. But since them we’ve seen countries and individuals all around the world adjusting rapidly to increase production, facilitate transport, and ensure both institutions and individuals have protection.
  • Hospitals world needs ventilators? Suddenly a vacuum manufacturer, an automotive giant, and garage based start-ups are amongst thousands of companies taking on this task. We discover that ventilators are not the best way to treat mid-level Covid-19 cases after all? We adjust again. Every new medical development and revelation leads to adjustments up and down the supply chains supporting this new pandemic industry.
  • We need medications, tests, vaccines? Pharma companies, biotech, universities, governmental and other institutions are all developing a variety of tests and working on vaccines at unprecedented speeds; many are already being tested. While stodgy old pharma companies might be resisting throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the development of tests and vaccines (a topic for another article), the innovation in this direction is coming from both traditional and surprising directions. For example, in Israel government labs who allegedly used to focus on military applications are turning their considerable expertise to virus vaccines. Groups of academics developing ideas on Twitter threads. This kind of cross-disciplinary activity is rife everywhere, both inside and outside national boundaries.

At the very beginning of the pandemic I remember seeing a picture of two kids in Wuhan wearing plastic bottles on their heads – this was before it even became fully clear that the virus had a less dire impact on the young, and before it was fully known how it was communicated. It was a shocking image – it felt both far away and awfully frightening and yet I remember thinking – how brilliant. How creative. How human.

And everywhere information, information, information is being shared – FAST!

Everyone watching everyone with a visibility that was unthinkable twenty years ago. Data being shared in milliseconds, absorbed in nanoseconds.  We are looking at the experiences of others as if it is not only natural but necessary to look over our neighbor’s fence.

And this leads to another impressive change in the nature of globality. We’re not only seeing unprecedented shows of agility and adaptability and resilience in how we cope with the pandemic, we’re also seeing impressive openness.

We’re learning from each other’s mistakes at an unprecedented rate – and though there are startling exceptions, for the most part we’re impressively willing to learn and change mid-course, sometimes a few times a day. This high-level willingness to change track as a result of shared information flow on a global level is definitely atypical but could have long term implications.

The new globality – recovery

This combination of agility/resilience and porousness/openness is precisely why I think we might weather this horror story better than we think.

Not out of altruistic we’re-in-this-together motives, but because we want to get out of this cesspit as quickly as we can and get back to ruining the planet in a hundred other ways. We want our grandparents to go back to being grandparents rather than hostages of an invisible nemesis, we want to get the hell out of the house and go to work (even if the workplace will be forever changed), we want to go shopping again without wearing masks, and to bars, and go on vacations, and play in the park without dreading the moment our kids put their hands on the swing and then pick their noses.

That’s our motivation.

We see not only our governments but the globe owing us the quickest way back to normalcy. Whether our governments can actually work together to achieve this is a different matter. It will mean working together as a federation of economies because we all want to boost our spending power. That will mean coordinating monetary policy, adopting stimulus packages, and continuing to monitor this brutal little beast as it hits us in successive but hopefully diminishing waves.

We might not even do it consciously – this coordination. It might be a result of the way we’ve been slowly matching our steps (up to a point) in the Coping with Death dance. But whether we intend it or not, we’re likely to be moving to a different, less discordant music as we drag ourselves out of this pit.

We have become, at some level, humanity.

Believing in this does not require being naïve. We will continue to hate and mistrust each other. We’ll probably continue to sink to the usual zero-sum-games as we blame each other for everything that has and will go wrong (lots) during this tragedy (we’ve already seen quite a bit of this ugly habit). There also may be a typically human backlash once we feel a little stable on our feet again. In fact, it’s depressingly likely.

But at some level, it is possible that a different kind of “we” is being welded out of this disaster.

Covid-19 has changed the mechanics, if not the paradigm of globality. It is this version of globality, this new mechanical alignment, that will now define and hopefully will also be in service of our recovery.

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