How the Pandemic Has Fundamentally Changed Us

We may not be worse. We may not be better. But we will be different.

the world looks ahead eagerly to a post-coronavirus reality, something unusual has happened. It may not be visible on the surface, but peel off the veneer of booming “productivity” (as we’ve come to think of all our endless Zoom calls) and the endless Netflix binge-watching. You’ll make an interesting, perhaps even profound, observation.

I noticed this for myself last year in Sydney, when I saw an elderly woman approach a total stranger’s dog and begin stroking it. I didn’t think much of it at the time … until I saw exactly the same happen two days later, elsewhere in the city.

Having spent time in the homes of nearly 3,000 different consumers over the past 15 years, in nearly 100 different countries, I’ve come to believe in the power of gaining valuable insights from seemingly insignificant observations. Everywhere we go, all of us leave behind clues that tell the story of who we are and how we feel. I’ve invented the term “Small Data” to refer to these tiny perceptions, which often lead to positive turnarounds in the way companies conduct their business.

Notice how we tend to leave the last bite of that amazing (and oh so unhealthy) chocolate cake on the plate, as if that one tiny last bite will make a difference. Feeling guilty? That’s definitely a kernel of Small Data.

Or the Harley Davidson you acquired at the age of 52. Midlife crisis, anyone?

Or how about my gold Rolex watch, which I convinced myself I was buying because it was super accurate (it wasn’t). Being out-of-balance isn’t something specific to living through a pandemic. We’ve always been out of balance. It’s the conflict between balance and out-of-balance that truly defines who we are. My Rolex watch was no exception. If I’m honest, I bought it to show the world how well I’ve done. Did I just hear someone whisper, “Insecurity?”

Those people in Sydney approaching other people’s dogs for a little bit of human-animal interaction were no exception, either. There’s a direct correlation between how much we’re touched, our mental, emotional, and physical health, and our life expectancy. The more our longing for touch goes unfulfilled, the more we become depressed. This explains why pet sales have increased by nearly 200% during the pandemic. We’re desperate for touch.

Over the years, psychologists have referred to the span of our lives as typically featuring seven entry points, life-moments that witness redefinitions of our behavior, our interactions with other people, and what brands we buy. When you first moved from your parents’ home, you likely went to IKEA for entirely new furnishings, and you began shopping differently, eating differently, and connecting in a different way with your friends. Or what about when you were expecting your first child? Suddenly you saw baby strollers everywhere, and your life changed for good (and for the good, too, I’ll bet).

But with the pandemic, we’ve witnessed a globally synchronized behavioral change. Being in lockdown, with its resultant lack of touch, lack of interaction, and lack of movement, has kicked us onto an unfamiliar track. We’ve found ourselves engaged in completely new thought-patterns and behaviors. We’ve experienced an entirely new, eighth entry point in addition to the traditional seven.

It’s not only leading to the purchase of lots more pets. Speaking to a leading fashion designer I was told that fashion houses have added textures to their handbags. And with us working from home (and likely to continue doing so as the world returns to whatever “normal” will be), we’ll transfer the resources we previously spent in a work context into spending on our homes. Real estate agents have noticed a widespread desire for larger homes with separate offices at a healthy distance from the kids’ bedrooms. Even sales of lawn-mowing equipment have skyrocketed.

Clothing trends have changed, too. In our work for Puma in Australia (even though Australia has experienced fewer than 30,000 cases of Covid-19), we’ve observed that people increasingly adopt a sports casual-wear style when working from home. As a result, sales of the usual formal work garb have plummeted.

This new, less straightforward entry point is likely to have a profound impact on the entire next generation. I call this “the time capsule.”

When you and I were young, we saw ourselves as invincible. In fact, neuroscience studies reveal that the area of the brain responsible for fear and anxiety isn’t as developed among millennials as it is among older adults. But this is likely to change as an entire generation, over the last year, has realized it isn’t invincible. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is.

I’ve never heard millennials mention the term “bucket list” as frequently as I have in the past year. Remember the bucket list concept? The idea of seeing and experiencing a roster of special places and things before you die belonged to the generation who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. Now it’s as if an entire generation, those currently in their 20s and 30s, have hopped into a time capsule, fast-forwarding their age by 30 years. Like 60-year-olds, they’ve acquired a desperate need to experience the world before it’s too late. As a result, we’re likely to see changes in travel patterns, the way we make purchases, and, yes, how we see life.

Lately, I’ve been saying that there’s no such thing as going back to work. Our work lives will be vastly different than in the past. I call it “going forward to work.”

And let me add this. There won’t be any such thing as going back to life as we knew it. The eighth entry point is going to thrust us ahead in a new direction. Instead, let’s say that we’re going to proceed forward to life.

Martin Lindstrom’s latest Wall Street Journal best-selling book: The Ministry of Common Sense is out now.

Martin Lindstrom, the world’s #1 branding expert, author of 7 New York Times bestsellers, the world’s most influential people (TIME) & thinkers (thinkers50)

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