I’m fascinated by people’s priorities now that lockdown has eased a little. Besides the long-awaited chance to see family and friends more easily and in larger numbers, haircuts, pints in pubs, meals out and sport have featured very heavily both in the press and in conversations. I have been pleased to go to London a couple of times (much as I have loved spending time at home with my family) for a change of scene and a chance to catch up with people who aren’t related to me.
What is particularly interesting now, though, is that although we all talk about haircuts, pubs and sport, we don’t want them in the way we thought we did. Partly this is because they remain changed; it’s complicated and awkward to do things that we barely had to think about before. But there is a deeper change going on which I think will pervade many areas of our lives.
We are, perhaps, starting to value things we hadn’t thought about before and think about how we consume. Maybe we don’t need manicures or highlights so often. Maybe watching a match or going out for a meal should be a bigger deal. Maybe having what you want, when you want it, is not as essential as we thought. It has been widely acknowledged that COVID happened at a fairly reasonable juncture in our technological history. We had video calling at our fingertips, home delivery systems, entertainment streaming and a fairly good infrastructure to support it all.
But at the same time, we were getting increasingly distanced from what normal consumer behaviour looked like only a few years ago. We grasp new technologies the minute they come out, find them very useful and forget that we managed fine without them before. The same goes for how we buy clothes or entertain ourselves or organise our time. We have got used to a disposable culture that suits our immediate wants, with little thought for the consequences.
I’m not suggesting that we return to the past and there are many modern conveniences that I won’t be giving up without a fight but somewhere in here there is a balance to be found. We have discovered which things we consider to be really essential. We have identified how our work/life balance can be improved. We have seen and felt the difference a quiet, reduced traffic, lower-emission world makes. Keen as I am to see the economy bouncing back to health, it clear that this is a chance to reflect on how we make that happen.
Sustainability and quality can equal greater cost but after more than three months of restricted choices, I think we are all much better able to take a mature view of what our priorities are. We have to start rebuilding but let’s do it in a way that lasts and can withstand future problems. We are starting to return to normal working life but let’s do it in a way that nurtures our private lives. We are starting to consume again but let’s consume sensibly and with care.
If we make the right choices now and keep those priorities at the front of our minds, we will create a better future that serves the needs of everyone. If we fall back into our old ways, we will create a short-term boost but we won’t be solving the big issues that dictate the quality of our lives.
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