Many people say that they hope to return to the old normal when Covid ends. They mean that they want to return to the life that they led before the lockdown, the quarantines, the masks, and the social distancing. People did lead different lives. But there was an old normal.
The “Old Normal”
People would travel to and from work in their car or in public transportation. They didn’t mind a crowded bus or train. They worked in a factory or office from 9 to 5. At home, in the evening, they enjoyed familiar food. They watched the news. They would watch a Monday evening football game. They would retire. Their weekend would be filled with going to church, doing various tasks, joining friends at a restaurant, or enjoying a barbeque with friends.
If we took a vote, most people would vote to resume this lifestyle. What a blessing not to worry about germs, shaking hands, hugging a friend, going to see a movie or attending a political rally.
Yet some people will vote against returning to this old normal. They never liked it. There was too much drinking and fake sociability. People ate too much and gained weight. Their viewed their work life as tedious. They didn’t like the long commute to and from work. Everyday seemed like “Groundhog” day like the one led by Bill Murray in that movie. The same life, day after day.
A number of citizens didn’t live the “old normal” even before Covid. Some lived a “gig” life where they worked two or three part time jobs. Some lived an Uber taxi lifestyle. Some were vegetarians who gathered with other vegetarians.
There are Many New Normals
When Covid is over, people will either return to the old norm lifestyle or to what life style they lived before Covid. It doesn’t make sense to say that most people will prefer a new normal to the old normal. There isn’t one new normal. One only needs to ask persons what they would want if they didn’t return to the old normal. There are many elements that can make up a new normal. Here are some elements that some people would want their new normal to have:
- A place where one can live near their work or easily reach by bicycle or scooter.
- A place with good public transportation and fewer cars to pollute the air.
- A place growing more local food, even where households can grow some of their own food.
- A place carrying on local manufacturing of common items so these items don’t have to be ordered from the Far East.
- A place where food stores and restaurants offer healthier food.
- A place where companies carry on their business without their people needing to do much air travel.
- A place that invests in beautifying the surroundings, where many people garden and put a high value on communing with nature.
- A place that puts a high value on good air and water.
- A place with public schools that gets kids to love going to school and learning new things and new skills.
- A place that values science, has a good local college doing research to improve things.
- A place that welcomes different religious and spiritual groups and practices.
- A place that welcomes and respects different racial and ethnic groups.
- A place widespread and affordable 5G broadband.
- A place investing in solar and wind energy and mostly electric cars.
- A place with good and affordable medical services.
- A place where everyone cares about improving the environment, recycling, reusing, and eliminating waste.
- A place where people can find or build good housing at an affordable price.
After a whole nation of people go through a dark period, a period of “enforced stay-at home,” of little sociability, of high unemployment, of a high number of deaths, they get new ideas about what matters and what constitutes a good life. People will have become conscious of many different lifestyles. Here are five different “new normal” life styles that depart from the “old normal.”
Five Different “New Normal” Lifestyles
First, a number of consumers are becoming life simplifiers, persons who want to eat less and buy less. They are reacting to the clutter of “stuff”. They want to downsize their possessions, many of which lie around unused and unnecessary. Some life-simplifiers are less interested in owning goods such as cars or even homes; they prefer renting to buying and owning. They prefer a “minimalist” life style.
Second, another group of consumers are degrowth activists who feel that too much time and effort goes into consuming. This feeling is captured in William Wordworth’s poem,
“The world is too much with us…
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”
Degrowth activists worry that consumption will outpace the carrying capacity of the earth. In 1970, the world population was 3.7 billion. By 2011, the world population grew to 7.0 billion. Today (2020) the world population stands at 7.7 billion. The U.N. expects the world population to grow to 9.8 billion by 2050. The nightmare would be that the earth cannot feed so many people. The amount of arable land is limited and the top soil is getting poorer. Several areas in our oceans are dead zones with no living marine life. Degrowth activists call for conservation and reducing our material needs. They worry about the people in the emerging poor nations aspiring to achieve the same standard of living found in advanced countries, something that is not possible. They see greedy producers and marketers doing their best to create “false and unsustainable needs.”
Third, another group consists of climate activists who worry about the harm and risk that high buying consumers are doing to our planet through generating so much carbon footprints that warm our planet. Climate warming is causing our glaciers to melt, leading to rising ocean levels that will flood the property of large coastal cities. Our air and water will increase in pollution. Climate activists carry a strong respect for nature and science and have genuine concerns about the future of our planet.
Fourth, another group are sane food choosers who have turned into vegetarians and vegans. They are upset with how we kill animals to get our food. Everyone could eat well and nutritiously on a plant, vegetable and fruit diet. Livestock managers fatten up their cows and chickens to grow fast, and then kill them to sell animal parts in the pursuit of profits. Meanwhile cows are a major emitter of methane that heats our earth and leads to higher temperatures, faster glacial melting, and flooding of cities. To produce one kilogram of beef, requires between 15,000 and 20,000 liters of water as well as so much roughage to feed the animals. Water shortages will become one of earth’s major problems.
Fifth, another group are conservation activists who plead not to destroy existing goods but to reuse, repair, redecorate them or give them to needy people. Conservationists want companies to develop better and fewer goods that last longer. They criticize a company such as Zara that every two weeks produces a new set of women’s casual clothing that would only be available for two weeks. Conservationists oppose any acts of planned obsolescence. They are hostile to the luxury goods industry. Many are environmentalists and anti-globalists.
There is much talk about what life will be like when Covid ends. Many people look forward to returning to the life they had before Covid. People led many types of lives but there was a dominant type that we can call the old normal. Many people prefer to return to the old normal. But many others either didn’t like the old normal or didn’t live the old normal.
We expect that many people will start searching for places where they can live out some new values that offer them more hope and satisfaction. More people will become conscious of climate change, income inequality, poverty, hunger, homelessness, poor living accommodations, racism, guns, and other issues. People will increasingly favor political candidates who offer some new solutions to these social problems than just returning to the old normal.
Philip Kotler is the “father of modern marketing.” He is the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He was voted the first Leader in Marketing Thought by the American Marketing Association and named The Founder of Modern Marketing Management in the Handbook of Management Thinking. Professor Kotler holds major awards including the American Marketing Association’s (AMA) Distinguished Marketing Educator Award and Distinguished Educator Award from The Academy of Marketing Science. The Sales and Marketing Executives International (SMEI) named him Marketer of the Year and the American Marketing Association described him as “the most influential marketer of all time.” He is in the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame, and is featured as a “guru” in the Economist. His latest work includes Advancing the Common Good: Strategies for Businesses, Governments, and Nonprofits and Brand Activism: From Purpose to Action. He is also the co-founder of the Wicked7 Project.