My rules for life
May 17, 2020
April 5, 2020
The term ‘New Normal’ is being bandied around a lot at the moment. But what does it even mean? A recent interview with Li Edelkoort on Dezeen quoted her as saying “It seems we are massively entering a quarantine of consumption where we will learn how to be happy just with a simple dress, rediscovering old favourites we own, reading a forgotten book and cooking up a storm to make life beautiful.”
How lovely, but I’m sorry, I disagree. In the short term, for sure, some of us might revel a little in our imposed ‘staycations’. We may have a forage through our wardrobes, dig out the old cookbooks and order a few weighty tomes that we absolutely intend to read. But in the long term, I don’t anticipate change on the level of ‘the great correction’ that many so fervently hope for.
She concludes with, “We will be in a position of having a blank page for a new beginning because lots of companies and money will be wiped out in the process of slowing down. Redirecting and restarting will require a lot of insight and audacity to build a new economy with other values and ways of handling production, transport, distribution and retail.”
This statement, however, is true. It would take a huge political and societal shift to build such a new ‘normal’ way of being. Which is precisely why it won’t happen. And whenever restrictions are lifted, neither are we all going to emerge from this and universally change our ways.
What is more likely to happen in the first instance is an absolute frenzy of credit-card fuelled consumerism as the majority gorge on everything that has been forbidden. Both as a pyschological reward to themselves, and as a quest to reclaim what was previously ‘normal’.
Factories will re-open because people want their jobs back. The sky will again go grey above China because we’ve seen now how many companies rely on it for goods and components. Flights will be re-booked because nothing can replace the nuance of personal interaction (let’s be honest, Zoom sucks for meetings). The Venice canal will be churned brown once more just as the sky over LA will be smog-filled, because the transportation systems that cause this are what make both cities function.
Also, most of the people who started walking and jogging over the last few weeks will stop because their attention will be pulled back elsewhere. And if we look to history we can remember that once the Spanish flu finally subsided, there were many months of lives shrouded by fear. Fear of each other. Fear of re-infection. Fear of it all happening again.
For even while we are still in the midst of this, we won’t take up yoga or meditation if we had no inclination to do so beforehand. We won’t read those weighty tomes, start crochet lessons, re-organise the cellar/our wardrobes/our photo albums or do any other of the worthy things that all those first ‘how-to-make-the-most-of-your-lockdown’ articles suggested.
And you know what, that’s ok. Because most of us are concentrating on surviving. Not giving into worry. And not killing our partners or permanently emotionally-damaging our children. In short, most of us are just trying to stay upright while the sand shifts continuously under our feet. And for Li to believe otherwise is an utterly idealistic (and probably very middle-class) fantasy.
The point is the difference between reaction and response. All the leaping to ‘transform difficulties into opportunities’ and scrabbling to establish a ‘new normal’ as fast as possible is reaction. Laudable, but still knee jerk reaction.
Nothing about this situation is normal (if we put aside for a moment the fact that we’ve actually been here before, referencing Spanish flu, Sars, Swine flu, Ebola etc). Thus we cannot expect ourselves to quickly transition into a new way of being. Especially one that so goes against the grain of human nature — to be sociable.
Instead we’re being challenged/forced to accept that we do not know when, or how, this may end. If we will, or won’t, get sick. Therefore we must take each day as it comes and be wary of undue catastrophising. This alone is our collective reality. To fight against it is understandable, but futile.
There’s certainly room for some positivity though via some of the responses to the pandemic. From the Italian doctor, Marco Ranieri, who worked out how to make one ventilator serve two. Companies like Dyson and even Formula 1 offering their engineering expertise to the health sector. Our ability to transform a conference centre into a hospital with the capacity to hold 4000 patients in 9 days. All of these are beyond fantastic. Yet this is actually what we have a right to expect from civilised society.
If there is a need, and you have the expertise, you must give. We’ve seen this too at a ground level in the UK with 750,000 people freely volunteering to support the NHS.
That some of us will change a little. That some of us will realise that we do not need as many clothes as we thought. That luxury is not consumer goods, it’s school runs and chats on park benches. That some of us will decide that perhaps they don’t need a car after all. Or that we could holiday in our own country. Or that even 10 minutes of daily exercise is actually really great.
That some of us will switch our energy supplier to one that supports green sources. And that many of us will continue to keep in touch with our neighbours and think about the needs of the elderly and vulnerable. And you know what, this will be enough. Because with this will also come the realisation that the change we seek can come from our actions as individuals for the following very simple reason — every time you buy something, watch something, engage with something, or eat something, you advocate for the provider to stay in business.
I wrote about this as early as my 2019 Trend Report (penned in 2018), and again a year later in my 2020 Trend Report, which ended with a quote from author Euny Hong saying, “Survival of the fittest doesn’t mean survival of the strongest; it means survival of the most adaptable.” It is also what informed my responses to the various Colours of the Year proposed for 2020 (Dulux’s Tranquil Dawn to Pantone’s Classic Blue).
Pre-Corona we were already on the brink of a revolution prompted by our ‘Age of Anxiety’. Thus we had already been shown the way forward. And it did not vest either power or hope in those at the top. Those edifices were already crumbling as we saw what they were really made of (think the European Union to Phillip Green and Harvey Weinstein).
Now a light has been shone on a different sort of darkness. In other words, we’ve been shown the true colours of many new things. The businesses that fire their staff at the first whiff of trouble (and in the US, this usually means instant loss of vital health insurance too). The people who fail to observe common-sense guidelines. The President who plays politics with vital medical supplies.
My point being, this is the moment for personal introspection, and individual responsibility, not for waiting for governments to show us the way. We have more power than we think, but only if we choose to take it, individually.
• This isn’t going to be the death of the office, but many meetings could always have been a well-crafted email.
• Online is expedient but the joy of shops is connection (much for the retail sector to learn here).
• In general, the cult of convenience needs to be challenged; just because we can, has never meant we should.
• We should always have appreciated our key workers, NHS, posties, refuse collectors, teachers etc. Obvious, but stating, because we need governance that values these essential institutions even when it’s not politically expediant. Right now payrises would mean more than claps.
And here’s eight more things that I think we will, or must, also see change in the lifestyle sector — Back to a Future: the Opportunity of the Next Decade.
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Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends and style. She is an influencer with expertise and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK.