Off Brand

Why Most Post-Pandemic Predictions Will Be Totally Wrong

Just examine all the predictions we made during 9/11 and the Great Recession

Rob Walker
Marker
Published in
6 min readApr 20, 2020

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Illustration: Fran Caballero

A deadly global pandemic is a self-evidently world-changing event. But world-changing how? While the coronavirus nightmare is nowhere near resolution, we are awash in predictions about what will come next, how our professional and business lives will be permanently altered, and how they will look a decade from now or beyond.

That’s only natural, and in some ways, it’s necessary: We sense that things will never be the same, and thoughtful speculation about the future helps us cope with the present — and, among other things, suss out economic perils and opportunities. Yes, it seems the massive work-from-home experiment will be here to stay. That virtual education is having its moment. That even meal-delivery subscription companies, which were recently on life support, may once again have a future.

Just keep one thing in mind about these predictions: Most of them will be wrong.

As this moment ought to remind us, the most influential and important events are the ones that emerge spontaneously and with little warning — like the coronavirus itself.

That’s only natural, too. When a cataclysmic event is fresh or still unfolding, it’s hard to see beyond its immediate contours and even harder to imagine what the next unpredictable events will be and how those will affect whatever change is in motion right now. As this moment ought to remind us, the most influential and important events are the ones that emerge spontaneously and with little warning — like the coronavirus itself.

But it’s so seductively easy to double down on sweeping pronouncements: E-sports will replace football and basketball, movie theaters will never return, and telemedicine will become the new normal. (We’ve even made a few.)

Anything is possible, but take a closer look at how often definitive predictions about permanent change are simply extrapolations of recently observable trends taken to some maximum extreme. In other words, the future…

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