Baby Boomers in retirement

How anxiety, fear, and loneliness will impact the road to recovery

Wayne Clark PhD, Woodrow Clark PhD

An old nursery rhyme goes “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, humpty dumpty had a great fall. All the King’s Horses and all the king’s men could not put Humpty together again”. Due to the Corona Virus pandemic, we now have a nation that has been cooped up, some experiencing cabin fever, a few even going a bit stir crazy, and others isolated, lonely, and fearful of what is out there. How do we assist our traumatized citizens to put our damaged society back together again?

As we write this blog, there is considerable emphasis on the impact of isolation, staying at home, quarantining, and other public policies on the economy. Quarantine fatigue has set in. There are seemingly insurmountable issues to restart the economy, get people back to work and recreate a “normal” society. To me the problem here is that all the State, local, and Federal policies as well as all the private sector business solutions will not easily put our society back together again. Public policy will only be able to go so far, industry will only be able to incentivize so much, business flow and solutions will only come back in spurts and tweaks. This recreating our social norm is not a smooth process whether it be in opening the workplace, sending kids to schools, transporting ourselves, attending large person to person events, you name it.

All of us, young and old will vote with our feet, choosing whether to: take a cruise on what has been called a petri dish for disease transmission; hop a plan for a business trip or holiday, through crowded airports, have your luggage inspected by somebody exposed to hundreds of strangers, wait in lines to get seated in a long narrow so you can sit within six feet of the person next to you, while breathing recycled air. For at least the immediate future, there will be a lot of people that will just not travel long distances.

Getting back to work, will you travel on trains, subways, or a bus, then get into crowded elevators or streets bustling with potentially asymptomatic people. Even if ordered by the president will you show up to the meat packing plant due to the potential for catching a fatal disease due to the outbreak at the plant?

Colleges have challenges, that will have to be overcome. Parents with kids in k-12 schools will have to risk sending ones child to an environment where lining up is so often required, auditoriums are packed, playgrounds have limited social distancing, and cafeterias let alone classrooms are places that your child will be exposed to others whether asymptomatic or not. Some might say schools will be fine since their child is not a high risk for contracting, they still will be carriers able to spread the disease back at home to friends and family.

Polls show that shoppers say they do not want to go to the mall. ESPN and others report that sports fans say they would rather watch from home. The hospitality industry is reporting that hotels will be impacted as conventioneers say they would just as soon see things virtually, etc. etc.

The impact of fear, the consequences of loneliness, and the anxiety of being infected are all significant factors that policy makers whether in government or business, have to consider. It might just not go as planned, there will not be a switch to turn on the lights and presto it will be just like it used to be. Instead there will be slow reintegration, restructuring how and when we travel, coupled with a rapid acceleration of alternative ways to socially gather together, and interact for work, leisure, and education.

The opportunity for new alternatives, is the silver lining in the rebuilding of our societies: whether it is preparing our health systems to be better prepared for social trauma’s like pandemics or adopting our business practices so that some of the benefits of staying in place can be realized (less traffic, less pollution, more family time, cleaner air, etc.). The opportunities are as striking as the challenges to establishing a new normal.

For instance let’s take education, what an opportunity for a new education, one that is more virtual, one that finds new ways to learn, and one that educates all ages in how to how to live in the 21st century. A brief example of learning in the boomer age, the skill of learning how to Zoom dramatically accelerated in the last few months. Now grandparents, workers, old friends, new friends, we learned a new skill that allowed us to sustain social interaction, and often reinvigorate our interpersonal communication. If we are to thrive as a planet we will need to retrain and reeducate ourselves in the new technologies, in the new workplaces, using the new tools.

Another example of new learning are the changes brought by electric cars, there are no sparkplugs, so no need to go to the mechanic to change spark plugs, brakes last longer due to their regenerative and auto braking mechanisms that last much longer, same can be said for oil filters, there are none. This change is not the end of the mechanic, it is the dawn of the new car geek who is also a computer geek that know how to fix the inboard computer and HVAC system. The mechanics of old now need to be the car loving computer geeks of today, they now have significant retraining that allows them to continue to work while using their new skills for the new automobile.

Consumer shopping, oh how that has changed and how it will continue to do so, the delivery of virtually everything you could want, whether it is clothes that fit, or delivery of paper products during a pandemic. The big malls are already turning into destination entertainment and food centers. That will impact the contractors that build malls and the clerks in the stores, but the builders can build more houses or redo our infrastructure, the clerks can learn new skills to be designers of clothes, or to dive deeper into products they are interested in.

Putting the social economic structure back together again will take those who want to do things differently to step out of the old normal and learn, learn, learn the emerging new normal. Instead of asking our grandkids how to use our smart phones, we should google what we want to do and up will pop a how to you tube. As we have seen with halting the spread of the pandemic, together government policy makers, business leaders, and us citizens can unify to produce needed changes. Now we need to show how we can put our society back together again albeit by building a society better than what we had.