“It’s like déjà vu all over again…The future ain’t what it used to be.” Yogi Berra
2021. A year that started with such hope. Vaccines had arrived. Hope and joy as it looked like we might come out of Covid darkness and resume life as we knew it. In-person conferences and meetings slowly returning. There were serious conversations about returning to work and the benefits.
Then came Delta, and the world sort of paused. But in general, life went on, especially for the vaccinated. We were still hopeful. We felt safe. We could get together in person again. And it felt good! We were optimistic that 2022 would finally be the year that we got more or less back to normal.
But then the world changed in a heartbeat yet again. Omicron arrived with a vengeance. And as we move into the new year, we face the real possibility that 2022 will repeat 2020. It feels like we are back to square one.
It’s happening all over again.
I’m looking at my 2022 calendar, littered with conferences, trade shows, and meetings. All set at a time pre-Omicron, and when I was optimistic, 2022 would be better. Now I wonder which, if any, of these events will actually take place. And if they do, will I feel safe going. (Case in point: the Consumer Electronics Show is set for the first week in January. CES is a multi-day event attended by people from all over the world. All indoors in Las Vegas).
The debate over whether in-person or remote work is better is no longer much of an issue as we face the reality that Omicron has wrought. More significantly, the optimistic calls and planning for a return to the office seem moot now. Even law firms are now concluding that we may all have to work remotely indefinitely. And as the time we can’t rerun to the office gets longer, the more can’t become won’t. Not to mention the changes in litigation and legal proceedings. Legal proceedings will simply have to be more and more online and less and less in person, fundamentally changing what it means to be a litigator.
Everything feels like 2020 all over again: as Yogi put it, it’s déjà vu all over again. Headlines alerting us to the dire situation we are in. How contagious Omicron is. Sporting events being canceled. Employers and even law firms face the new reality that there may be no return to the office. Ever. Schools going back online. Family gatherings being canceled.. Restaurants closing or empty. No clear direction on what to do or not do. Shortage of tests. Fear and depression.No certainty of anything.
It’s happening all over again.
The future ain’t what it used to be
And this time, I don’t have much hope we will ever have what we once did. I’m no longer sure we will or can ever be back. And this has enormous implications for our society and, more specifically, our communities and downtowns everywhere. In New York City, for example, the question is no longer be whether it can come back to what it was in 2019. The question now seems to be whether it will ever even get the chance.
The longer we go having to live online, the less likely we will return to in person, at least as we all know it. We already see Facebook touting the metaverse where life is to be lived online. And Microsoft is rapidly taking us to an online professional world of avatars. It’s time to face facts: the pandemic has changed and is changing the world of work and business. From online meetings being the norm, to in-person events declining in frequency and importance, to in-person conferences disappearing off the landscape, to the nature of our fundamental relationships with our families and each other, our world is simply not the same. Nor, I fear, will it ever be. We may not like the new world, but it’s time to accept it for what it is.
The future? It ain’t what it used to be.