The massive social disruption imposed by COVID-19 has naturally led people to wonder if and when things will return to pre-pandemic normalcy. Chicago Booth’s Ayelet Fishbach says that some things may be permanently changed, but our human craving for interpersonal contact won’t be. And when it comes to congregating in places with other people, she predicts we’ll fall back into familiar practices sooner than we may think.
My prediction, reading the research that we have in psychology, is that people are going to get back to hugging and spending time together and shopping in supermarkets much faster than they anticipate. Once the crisis is over, our human nature is going to bring us back together.
We are just not good at being alone. We like to touch each other, we like to be with each other. I am optimistic that whether it’s in the short run or in the long run, life will go on, and we will go back to having social interactions with people around us. That is, physical social interactions.
I’ve heard the argument that after working from home, people are going to discover that this is amazing, and no one will go to the office again. This has not been my personal experience. I do not like working from home. I miss my office very much. I miss my colleagues very much. I miss the insights and information and feedback that I am getting not in an official meeting that we set online, but just by knocking on someone’s door or running into them in the hall, having a coffee together.
This is a huge experiment. It’s a wonderful field experiment: Let’s have everybody work from home and see if they like it. We are collecting the data. I at this point only have one data point, which is me, and I can’t wait to go back.
It’s an interesting question to see what will happen with our consumption habits as a result of this crisis. We basically moved everything to online, and are we going to go back to the movie theater, or is movie watching going to be online? Are we going to a concert again, or will we just listen to music on Spotify? What about malls? What about any type of shopping that people do, either because they have to, or for fun?
My general prediction here is that necessities are going to be replaced now with more online consumption—basically, once I learned I can use my watch to pay in the grocery store, I’m not going back to sticking my credit card in a machine. That’s a necessity. I was forced to change my habits, I changed them successfully, and now I’m there.
Anything that involves social interaction, like going to the movie theater, a concert, a mall on Saturday, there my prediction is we are going to go back to our old ways as soon as we are allowed to.