Thinker's Notebook

The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be

Going outside is different, ain’t it?

I went to Wegman’s yesterday to do food shopping and waited on a line that wrapped itself around the corner onto Flushing Avenue, while standing approximately six feet from the person in front of me. We were all wearing masks, and being around a bunch of people wearing masks feels funny. It’s solemn and alarming in subtle ways you barely notice. In intervals, the police officer at the front door allows a half-dozen or so of us in at a time. The whole process takes about 20 minutes, and we were perfectly okay with that. Once inside, the shopping experience isn’t at all the crowded boulder dash you’re used to. The supermarket is 75% empty. There are limits on the amount of certain items you can purchase — limit two boxes of spaghetti, limit two packs of chicken wings. When it’s time to pay, each checkout line is marked with social distance reminders on the ground, yellow tape every six feet. There is a plexiglass barrier in front of the cashier, and hand sanitizer stations and antiseptic wipe stations at the exit door. I put my bags in the trunk, got into the car, took my mask off and then sprayed disinfectant on my hands and phone. And then, I drove off.

Covid-19 revealed to us areas of potential vulnerability in our everyday lives that have spawned a shift. There were things in our past that we used to do with no regard to the risk associated with them. Simple things, like being in a room with 400 other people partying, or even simpler, letting our kids play in the park with other kids. Living in a pandemic has made us analyze those vulnerable points. Our schools, our food markets, our restaurants, our modes of transportation, these places are necessary in our society. These places have also shown themselves to be catalysts in spreading viruses from one person to another. The key moving forward is to find ways to continue to use our necessary spaces without placing each other in harm’s way.

Take schools, for example. Anyone who has a child knows that children are natural incubators for colds and the like. One kid has it, and by the end of the school day he’s passed it to a dozen others. How will we find comfort in sending our children back to school in September, into buildings that hold hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of other children, knowing the dangers that we now know? Some of the ideas being thrown around are revealing that the future of school will look nothing like the past at all.

One idea being mentioned is to have children come into the school only on certain days, so for example, some kids would come to school Mondays and Wednesdays, while others would come to school Tuesdays and Thursdays. On the days that they are not in the building, the children would continue remote learning. This would be a revolutionary change in education, but the foundation for creating an adequate remote-learning environment is being created and vetted at this very moment, while our children are forced to perform remote-learning during the quarantine. Educators nationwide are analyzing what is working and what is not, in order to find a path that makes sense.


I think about nights before Covid, hanging in Rustik Tavern or over at Peaches Shrimp and Crab, drinking and laughing with my friends at a packed bar, the room filled with patrons doing the same thing, the buzz of nightlife in Brooklyn. If you told me back then that hanging in a packed bar was an unhealthy thing, I would’ve certainly assumed you were referring to the drinking part, not the laughing and hanging with friends. Our restaurants and bars have been shut down for months now. Some owners have been able to pivot and provide take-out options, but the revenue generated from a few take-out orders per day is nothing compared to what a packed Friday night meant to their bottom line.

When will that next packed Friday night happen? What will it look like? The restaurant industry nationwide has lost more than $25 Billion dollars since this pandemic began, and our dining and nightlife is where we are poised to see the most change. Your waiter in mask and gloves, your temperature checked before you’re allowed to be seated, disposable menus, contactless transactions, all of it strong possibilities when the industry reopens.
And those nights laughing hard at a packed bar may be a thing of the past.

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