08 февраля 2021

Non-results From Professionals: How A Pandemic Year Changed Our Society

In early February 2021, Russia marked a year since the first cases of coronavirus began to be registered in the country. Following these first cases, the course of life of the majority of the country's inhabitants began to change due to the mutation of patterns of behavior, new guidelines and values, as well as the closure of borders between countries and their simultaneous erasure between work and home. Over the past pandemic year, people have taken a different view of the risks, embraced the forced changes, and keenly felt the importance of sources of inspiration and recuperation. Well-known professionals from the field of culture, education and business — Director of the Pushkin Museum Marina Loshak, Rector of the Russian School of Economics Ruben Enikolopov and entrepreneur Alexander Mamut shared their impressions, assessments and forecasts within the framework of the SKOLKOVO Business School project Antifragility.
Non-results From Professionals: How A Pandemic Year Changed Our Society
Источник: Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash

Unprecedented Sensations

Ruben Enikolopov, Rector of the New Economic School: People have realised their vulnerability to nature. Nature comes with a simple little, incredibly small virus and completely changes life and its structure on the entire planet. This topic is much broader than the coronavirus itself. It is no coincidence that people generally began to pay more attention to the green theme, and the green parties began to gain weight everywhere.

Human communication and our attitude towards it have completely changed. We, on the one hand, realised how much earlier there was the so-called "surface" communication, communication for the sake of communication, some fake communication, which is now a thing of the past, and thank goodness. On the other hand, we realised how valuable quality communication with new people and with our loved ones is, and what a loss it would be if we were to lose it. Everyone realised the importance of communication and witnessed the changes in its quality.

In addition, governments all over the world began playing a much more significant role in people's lives. They began to get into those areas that they had not previously encroached on, to control people's lives right at the micro level. Now, this is certainly justified due to the pandemic, but governments have been known to display this tendency: if you give them something, they usually do not give it back. That's what I'm afraid of, really.

Marina Loshak, Director of the Pushkin Museum: The past year has brought the victory of the human over the artificial. Priorities have changed so much that we have turned to ourselves, that is, to the human, and realised what is most important to us. The simplest things that were always available and natural suddenly acquired some truly global value, much greater than everything else that has gone by the wayside.

We felt that in general, changes are possible in life, and after all, any changes are a great blessing. It's time for a change, and that's the good and powerful news that this whole pandemic adventure has brought.

I don't know about the others, but I clearly understand that in connection with all that has happened, we must strive for maximum internal plasticity and flexibility. They have always been an important tool, without which it is simply impossible to do now — after all, you need to be ready for any turns, without fright or stress — this is such a right state…

Unfortunately, humanity tends to forget events quite quickly — a happy trait, of course. I would very much like this memory to be preserved after all, and not to go away with the end of the pandemic, which will end in any case.

Alexander Mamut, businessman and financier: We have experienced the loneliness of a new typology that we had not experienced before. It forces us to spend more time alone with ourselves and think about ways out of completely new situations in which we have not found ourselves. This is such an individual exercise, effort, occupation.

The conclusions that we draw from these reflections, the dialogue with ourselves that each person leads, are important. And these conclusions — and for some, these may be plans for some kind of overcoming or new construction, are extremely important.

Without finding new meanings, it is quite easy to quickly turn into mothballs, that is, to lose your own social relevance and, as they say, to complete the life task.

Surge In Digitalisation

Marina Loshak: Naturally, we are talking about a greater understanding of the virtual world than before. So much larger that it's a completely different order of magnitude. We were quite frivolous, reckless and self-confident, not thinking too deeply about how to act in this field. We realised our own provincialism. On projects related to the virtual world, everyone learns, tries, and achieves some fair, and sometimes, I think, even good results.

We have acquired a large army of friends and partners among good and already beloved international artists, curators, museum directors, a large army of people, collectors. People we haven't worked with before. We have expanded this field, and this will become the new page that we will open.

Alexander Mamut: I can't say that the changes on the Internet caused by the pandemic have somehow delighted me — I sincerely think that these are forced circumstances and everyone is looking forward to returning to normal life. Nothing can replace a museum visit, or the one-on-one tutoring of a professor with a student, or live communication in the theater and many other areas. Naturally, lessons will be learnt and some conclusions will be drawn — and something will certainly change.

Reassessment Of Meanings

First, those things that are directly related to humanism, the value of human life and the need to take care of each other, will change. Everything related to mutual assistance — volunteer work, the heroic work of doctors, attention to the observance of all standards, and public benefit companies. Everything that is connected with the further strengthening of humanistic values both in the economy and in public practice. This is the kind of consequence I would expect. There should be more humanism, because we have experienced and felt fragility. And talking about antifragility, it should refer, of course, to the development of humanistic sentiments in society.

Ruben Enikolopov:
 Everything is changing for the better in our country — maybe this is in line with the "two steps forward, one step back" formula. Of course, there is nothing good about the pandemic – that is a step back, but in a sense, this is also a good kick that we all got. There was a reassessment of meanings — what is important and what is not important, all in such a painful way.

We understand, of course, that it is best to communicate live. But thanks to the coronavirus crisis, the feeling was that the geographical barriers had disappeared altogether, because we all lived on Zoom for practically everything. I found it easy to communicate with my friends in California, even though it would be morning there and here evening, and time boundaries became more important to me than spatial boundaries. The role of physical space, boundaries and such ease of erasure – I think this is something that can be made use of quite effectively in the future.

We tried to live in the online environment and realised that there are many good things in it and it opens up many opportunities. When the restrictions from the pandemic are lifted, almost everyone will have an understanding in their subcortex of the need for the right balance of online and offline.

Big Village With Different People

I was struck by how much we are one big village and how the problems are practically the same – here, in Europe, and in America. In this sense, physical boundaries have also somehow been erased.

Psychological differences between people were more pronounced. Some people just physically felt for themselves the difference between extroverts and introverts. Someone found it just incredibly painful and difficult to go online, while someone had dreamt about it all their life, not seeing other people and not communicating with them, and suddenly, they got that opportunity.

Alexander Mamut: Humanity developed many vaccines this past year. It used to take decades. They would take seven to eight years to develope a vaccine, followed by test trials. Now, vaccination programmes are being rolled out both here and in other countries. Such is clearly our man-made intellectual response to a pandemic, a catastrophe. Industry and the scientific community were mobilised, while the state somehow helped here and there.

Lack Of Randomness

Ruben Enikolopov: Online meetings have their limitations. It’s impossible to come up with anything new. Zoom meetings are great, save a great deal of time when you know exactly the subject and the issue that needs to be solved – then it really is much more effective. But it is quite difficult to produce something new, because the new is generated more often at random meetings, in random encounters. Online life, on the other hand, is incredibly structured; there is zero chance of meeting someone accidentally on Zoom – that's simply impossible. But in real life, why not? This disappearing element of randomness is still quite important for creativity and everything new. Therefore, all these Zooms have their own limitations.

Alexander Mamut: I can't imagine an online brainstorming session or a creative meeting where people get to create, interrupt each other, argue. On Zoom, we see some kind of formal presentations: we listen to the report, ask questions, but there is no creativity.

In addition, many meetings take place in a small format — two or three people each. They are usually the most productive and meaningful. And despite the fact that everyone has already learnt how to use graphs, tables, and everything else, it's not quite the same as drawing and designing together. A human element is being lost! And there is a lot of it.

New Habits And Their Prospects

Some of the anti-pandemic skills that we have acquired will remain. It is possible that the state and municipal authorities will draw some conclusions on the topic of distribution and self-sufficiency, including local and regional. The peripherals can be filled with all the necessary functionality, so that there is no need to drag yourself to the centre. And here, we are talking not only about urban planning, but also about trade, content, and other areas. Unlike the centre, the periphery has, for example, recreation — there are parks, more greenery, less crowding. The distribution and autonomy of both urban and virtual spaces, I think, will be one of the consequences and lessons of the pandemic.

Ruben Enikolopov: The emergence of flexibility in choosing the format of work — online or offline, leads to people no longer seeing the need to go to work in the centre, and they can choose to not do it if they so wish. If it is no longer geographically important where the employer is located, you can live more in the local space, in your area, walk in slippers everywhere — wherever you want to be. It is important to have a comfortable living environment, in which, of course, everyone does not really want to go anywhere. If you want to go somewhere, it's to a theater or a museum. You no longer need to go to work everyday. The least fun people have is commuting to and from work — that's what people hate the most.


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