The summer of looking around

by Walt Maguire, Interim Editor
Posted 7/21/21

During the long days of the pandemic, there were long talks about how life would be different afterwards. In many ways the future arrived. In some ways, it did not.

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The summer of looking around

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During the long days of the pandemic, there were long talks about how life would be different afterwards. Theoretical studies about the efficiencies of working from home were tested in real time: shorter work weeks, telecommuting, home delivery. In many ways the future arrived.

In some ways, it did not. Staying in one place meant more home trash, more double-parked delivery trucks, more home-improvement projects and more power tools and mowers banging away. We sat in our homes on our laptops and listened to our children struggle with remote learning at the other end of the dining room table and thought about how much fun it looked on the Jetsons.

Now we’ve left the house. We’re back in swivel chairs behind a desk, or greeting customers and seeing their entire face. Students are going back in the Fall. The vaccinated are shaking hands and hugging strangers. Those who aren’t are probably doing that too, which is another story.

Despite having 17 months to figure out what we wanted the world to be when All This Was Over, it turns out there are a few things we Never Thought Through. Office workers at one local place are back in the office part-time – Tuesdays and Thursdays one week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday the next. This, it turns out, is confusing. The Philadelphia School District is changing the start times for the school day to accommodate a shortage of bus drivers, which does not accommodate parents trying to get out the door to work, especially with children of different ages and an hour between their first bells.

No one is sure about wearing a tie. Masks are still required in some places. They can be used as an elegant pocket square at other times.

Video meetings turned out to be a major revelation. Zoom’s most important feature was requiring every meeting planner to start with the question “Do we really need to do this?” Teleconferences were frequently more useful, because they were necessary. Another benefit: Greater participation. People who could previously not attend a Chestnut Hill zoning hearing or a Home and School monthly meeting because of distance, other obligations, or a physical disability, could now sit in. Attendance doubled, in some cases. Now that in-person meetings are returning, organizations are struggling with how to keep that remote involvement. A video call is free or a minimal subscription. Hybrid meetings require more setup, more expense, and probably software that doesn’t exist yet.

In some ways, there are signs we’re already forgetting the lessons we learned and the promises we made to ourselves when there was a chance the world would never come back. But it’s easier to do than we thought it would be.

We’re leaving our homes and exploring the new world. We have a summer to decide where we’re going.

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