In a recent talk, MIT professor Noam Chomsky brought the Delphic Oracle paradigm to the surface, quoting its most famous aphorism, “Know thyself.” Updating it to the present chaotic state of society, Chomsky suggested an update on the ancient Greek maxim. “As social beings, we should also know the world we live in, and beyond that, the societies and cultures that humans have created.”
Understanding our surroundings is an exercise in awareness, making us conscious and empathetic, and that is the most useful thing we can do in times of crisis, like the one in which we are living. That is how we started this report, aiming to better understand what was happening, in order to anticipate future behaviour. We quickly realized that foreseeing the future wasn’t possible, because everything is changing so fast, with numbers increasing, industries changing, cultures adapting. Everything is uncertain.
In times of uncertainty, stay aware of the present. This is why we decided to switch the name of the “What’s Next Report” to “The State of Presence Report.” We are interviewing people from different disciplines, with innovative and entrepreneurial spirits, to better understand how they are dealing with the present, and learn how they are adapting to face the future.
For the last several weeks, we have been interviewing people, participating in Instagram Lives, YouTube talks, and reading a massive amount of articles, all to try to understand what is happening with our society. As human beings, which behaviours are we going to change, and which ones are we going to let go, as part of the old world?
For the fashion industry, who was already facing challenges towards sustainability and digitalization, the pandemic was an extra layer of crisis: traditional department stores are going into bankruptcy; the garment industry in Asia is in collapse – Bangladesh lost 3 billion dollars in orders from Eastern companies during the Corona crisis; and the whole world is facing cancellations, layoffs and much more in the apparel and textile supply chain.
During our research, we faced some optimistic interlocutors believing that this will soon be over and we will be back to normal. But what is “normal”? The world we used to live in, the habits we developed, all led us to this chaos. Also, social distancing and lockdown have been making significant changes in our behaviour. There is no “normal” to go back to after the pandemic crisis is over.
This crisis exposed infinite layers of damage in our society: environmental, ethical, social, economical, and moral. A few days without tourists in Venice, and the water was clear again. China, UK, Germany, Italy and many other countries are seeing reduced carbon emissions, around 40% less, during lockdown. Scientists are referring to this as our test to see how the world could be without fossil fuels. Everything was broken, but we are having a glimpse of what we can do in order to repair it.
When we are trying to foresee the future, we should learn to read the past. That is why we went back to historian Eric Hobsbawn and his theory about the landmarks of the changing of the centuries. In his perspective, the 19th century was over only after the Great World War in 1918, because of the mindset that ended with it.
With the end of the Great War, the world faced the Influenza Pandemic, also called the Spanish Flu, which infected 500 million people – a third of the world’s population at the time. Today, we have strong cultural traditions from that time. One in particular is very curious: the Brazilian Carnaval.
Newspapers at the time reported that the 1919 carnival was the most joyful and festive ever registered in Rio de Janeiro. The population was out on the streets to celebrate, creating the street carnival blocks, which developed into the samba school parades that we have nowadays. This article (in Portuguese) talks about the relation between pandemics, such as the Influenza Flu and the Plague, in social behaviours and symbolic expressions of joy and judgment. Also, the article refers to another pandemic heritage: the public health system.
And what about this pandemic? The anthropologist and historian Lilia Schwarcz suggested, referring to Hobsbawn’s theory, that the 20 century – the century of technology – has finally ended with COVID-19: “We had tremendous technological development, but now the pandemic shows us these limits.” [You can read more about it here – in Portuguese].
Centuries are timestamps but also represent a period mindset. If the 20th century is over, what is it leaving behind? And what should we expect from the 21th century that is starting now, from this pandemic that is changing forever our perspectives and paradigms?
We are living in between eras, feeling homesick for the days that have passed and anxious about the uncertainty of what is coming ahead. That’s why we decided to better understand our surroundings (“know thyself and beyond”, remember?), interviewing a few experts in completely different areas, like art, biology, trend forecasting, innovation, education, entrepreneurship, and so on. Together, we are trying to figure out what is going to happen next in a world after COVID-19.
This is not a trend report. That’s why we’re calling it “The State of Presence”, because, as in meditation – the real must-have of this season – these times require absolute focus on the present to be fully aware. We should look at what we are living and feeling NOW, first as human beings, then as creators, makers, even consumers.
We want to open our platform as a channel to discuss and debate the paths we are choosing to walk in this new future, based on what we know about the past and focusing on the present. As much as we think that it is hard to foresee a future of uncertainty in the middle of a health crisis, there are certain tools and methods that could help us to deal with this. What we can do now is to think, training our brain muscles – since we can’t go to the gym – and keep focusing on the present to be better prepared for this unknown future.
In our research, we recognized some currently used words that could be a sort of trend, if you like, in terms of innovation and resilience post-COVID. Keep these in mind:
Collaboration, Education, Empathy, Ethics, and Flexibility.
We are going to explore and explain these keywords better in the articles ahead. Keep reading here, subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss any one of the new articles, and go to social media to participate in this conversation!
If you want to collaborate with our series, please reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the new “normal”. Let’s understand it together.
Head of Research of ThePowerHouse and editor-in-chief of The State of Presence Report.