Did COVID kill the rat race?

Are the mind-numbing moments, in traffic, slowly watching life disappear a thing of the past? Are sweaty summer days, defying physics by sharing the same time and space with a complete stranger on public transport just a shiver-inducing memory? It is hopeful and quite possible!

Whilst travelling through Mexico, I met many people working from laptops. Digital nomads, they called themselves. I thought of them more like digital Del boys. Wheelers and dealers who were scraping by. Earning enough money to keep the adventure alive. The hustle was part of the adventure. Just getting enough to eat. Or so I thought. Some were very successful entrepreneurs who stayed in lavish locations whilst working. Benefiting from the relatively low cost of living and having a good time along the way. It’s easy to dismiss these people as irresponsible thrill-seekers. Youngsters who refuse to join reality like the rest of the drones packed onto trains. But the COVID pandemic has brought that into question.

The culture shift brought about by the pandemic has rejuvenated many people. The enforced working from home has made many question the value of their time. Thanks to not being crammed into train carriages or slowly going insane in traffic there has been an uptick in peoples mental health. The other benefit to the reduction in the commute is an increase of time. Which has allowed for closer connections with loved ones and family? It has also allowed for an increase in energy thanks to a reduction in the length of the day and stress. This has created healthier and happier people. I’m not saying that is the case for everyone but it is the case for many people. As a result of these benefits, the previous benefits of the working life have been brought into question. If not exposed for their dishonesty. Overpriced trains and overpriced meals were accepted as the norm. Negative emotions were part of the trade as they were to be offset with toys or treats to perk up the mood. Chemical correction Thus making the whole process worthwhile. But whilst working from home, many people, have begun to enjoy the simple things in life. Bicycle sales are up. Wildlife was in full song during the absence of traffic and was noticed by many for the first time. The slowing down of life allowed people to venture into parks and enjoy a walk with the family. The de-stressing benefits are abundant. The simplicity gave many people the peace they had been searching for. Not, the things we once strived for under the guise of finding contentment.

I have seen reports of the downside to home working. Including isolation and loneliness. This highlights a worrying culture. One that depends on work for the whole spectrum of human needs. Is this the best we can do? Isn’t it worrying that a place like London with a population of 9 million is one of the loneliest cities in the world? Has the indoctrination into the rat trap worked too well? Has the pursuit of materialistic perfection blinkered people from the simplistic pleasures in life. Has the awakening of the lockdown exposed this? It would appear so.

The office is nothing more than a creche for adults. Travelling from far and wide to sit under the watchful eye of the supervisor. Turn up on time or else! Wear your uniform or else! Don’t say anything inappropriate or else! What’s inappropriate? You’ll find out at the tribunal. Walking on eggshells and anxious as the axe swings overhead. The only joy comes in the toys that the job allows the credit to buy. We accept this as normal because we are told it is normal. Now the concept of travelling for hours to plaster on a bullshit eating grin seems a bit pointless. It seems so stupid now it can be done from the comfort of your own home. A safe distance away from that annoying prick in accounts. Or that moaning bastard who enviously squashes any optimism you may have found. It is the start of a technological revolution. The freedom for employees to have a genuine work-life balance.

I understand that not all jobs can be done remotely and not everyone wants to but at least we can have the option. It is on us to make it happen. I know it’s difficult for some people to fathom but there is certainly more to life than work.

I think a balance between the two would be good. Sometimes in the office and sometimes at home. It will cover all bases. Yet, I think of those digital nomads, sitting on a beach somewhere, using work to further their adventures. Using the money gained to ensure their freedom. Instead of being shackled by debt that we have taken to try to buy happiness. This leads many to resent the trap they are in.

If people feel happier then maybe they will need to consume less. If they are commuting less and consuming less then surely that is better for the environment. Terrible for the economy though. If that is the choice then it is on us to decide what future we want to leave for the next generations. Maybe there is the opportunity to compromise. Boris Johnsons pleads to return to normality is a plead to return to misery based consumption. Now is the perfect opportunity to strike a balance.

The shift is happening and the control freaks are getting edgy. Maybe overbearing management types will become the new Luddites. Trying to bring down the technology that will liberate the staff from their obnoxious presence. But the genie is out of the bottle and it may be impossible to get back in. Times change and maybe this time the changes will be made by the demand of the workforce.

It’s possible that countries no longer lower their corporation tax to entice business. Instead, they will lower their income tax rate to entice digital nomads. Cities would take a big hit. Except for the locals and the people seeking the corporate lifestyle others would have the world as their office. Globalisation starts to benefit the workers and not just the corporations who lobby governments for huge tax breaks. It’s idealistic of course. It is more likely that the surveillance software will be rolled out to keep the workers in check. Or maybe the work will move to cheaper shores and the employees of the western world will be left wanting. It has been coming for a long time. There aren’t enough resources in the world to ensure that every human can live with hedonistic abandon. Maybe the west has had its time. But maybe the liberation from the pursuit of the ideal thing will be the liberation we have been seeking.

The last significant upheaval in the UK was during the eighties when unemployment rose to 11.9% as the shift from manufacturing to the service sector took place. The impact of these decisions are now playing out as shops, cafes and restaurants suffer the impact of people not returning to the city centres. The knock-on effect will be a recession. Maybe if the governments hadn’t sold the entire country off to focus on a consumption model then there would still be items to sell and money available. Instead we need debt. And we need spending. Without debt there is no spending. The whole rat race is based on the pursuit of an illusion.

Who knows, maybe the change in working patterns will shift high streets back to local merchants. The out of town shopping complex that was designed to steal customers from the high streets will diminish. People will travel less, consume less and live more. Maybe we can finally strike a balance between comfort and sustainability.


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