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Pandemic Aftermath


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This book is a critical examination of ongoing events and an engrossing future perspective, with many scenarios to consider and plan for


A tour de force of contemporary social science by a futurist at the forefront of technology and change.

We are in the pandemic now, but what happens next? The book offers five ways to look at the coming future, crafted as scenarios, based on the author's study of the forces of disruption that brought on the pandemic. It offers suggestions to remedy its consequences, or even enable segments of society to thrive on it. The first portion of the book is non-fiction. The second portion is a scenario-based novel, the book charts new territory by interweaving the grim reality of 2020 with a first-person exploration of the next decade as if we were already in it.

The five scenarios considered are: Borderless world, Nation state renewal, Two worlds apart, Hobbesian chaos, and Status Quo.

“Trond Undheim is that rare genius who builds the future even as he is predicting it. This is the book the world in lockdown has been waiting for.”
— Sir John Hargrave, bestselling author of Mind Hacking and Blockchain for Everyone

It's a strange experience to read a book about a global crisis (COVID-19) and the resulting societal trajectory while still in the midst of the crisis itself. It's also a hopeful experience that while reading about the current pandemic, and possibly planning for future ones, there's also much talk of a future beyond these devastating events. While things seem gloom and doom right now, and might for a while, "Pandemic Aftermath" needed to be written and it needs to be read. While this book isn't the most comfortable read, precisely because the world is still coping with the ongoing death and devastation, you might want to read it if you're tired of doomsday scenarios and need to see a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel. Staying informed AND hopeful is possible, and Undheim helps us see that we aren't necessarily doomed forever.

"Pandemic Aftermath" has a unique format, with the first half covering the basics: what coronavirus is, how it happened, and where we find ourselves right now as a global society. It's a nice mix of current events, history, science, politics, and health. The author breaks everything down into chewable chunks, easily digested and thankfully not too science-heavy. However, Undheim takes the book in an interesting direction in the second half, pushing the boundaries of the nonfiction genre. This is where a bit of an imagination might be required of the reader, as the author presents several reality-based scenarios that might play out in the near and distant future. Always mindful of the fact that no one really knows what to expect in a situation like this, Undheim does not hesitate to extend some helpful observations and suggestions to help readers cope with the aftershocks of this pandemic, and possibly others in the future.

"Pandemic Aftermath" is a thoughtfully-researched book that serves two non-negotiable areas for readers: information and entertainment. It's both a critical examination of ongoing events and an engrossing future perspective, with many scenarios to consider and possibly plan for. In the words of filmmaker James Cameron, “Hope is not a strategy. Luck is not a factor. Fear is not an option.” I think Undheim would agree.

Reviewed by

Avid Reader since childhood. Information junkie, Wordsmith, and critical life-psychoanalyst. Journalism/Psychology graduate. Book reviewer/blogger. Logan's Mama. Hope to work in publishing. Always looking for review opportunities and an excuse to read.


A tour de force of contemporary social science by a futurist at the forefront of technology and change.

We are in the pandemic now, but what happens next? The book offers five ways to look at the coming future, crafted as scenarios, based on the author's study of the forces of disruption that brought on the pandemic. It offers suggestions to remedy its consequences, or even enable segments of society to thrive on it. The first portion of the book is non-fiction. The second portion is a scenario-based novel, the book charts new territory by interweaving the grim reality of 2020 with a first-person exploration of the next decade as if we were already in it.

The five scenarios considered are: Borderless world, Nation state renewal, Two worlds apart, Hobbesian chaos, and Status Quo.

“Trond Undheim is that rare genius who builds the future even as he is predicting it. This is the book the world in lockdown has been waiting for.”
— Sir John Hargrave, bestselling author of Mind Hacking and Blockchain for Everyone

Introduction. The pandemics of yesterday and tomorrow

“Surviving Ebola was not only a matter of avoiding contagion or receiving treatment, but a broader social matter of living through the crisis in a dignified and meaningful way.”

Dr. Jonah Lipton, London School of Economics

We are currently witnessing the most drastic rewriting of the rules of society since the industrial revolution. Other observers had previously thought that it was the technological revolution of the past few decades that deserved this same stature, but recent months’ events surrounding the severity of the 2019 Coronavirus pandemic and the increasing spread of the virus and the COVID-19 disease that comes with it would seem to beat it hands down. Let’s look closely at why this is so. The key is to put COVID-19 into the context of the aftermath of two other massive diseases that scorched the earth, the Black Death and the 1918 influenza pandemic.

It has become more challenging to disagree with the notion that we are all, at least at the moment, living in a “risk society” where the state of emergency threatens to become the norm. Sociologists Ulrich Bech (1992) and Anthony Giddens[CKB1] [Y2]  (1991) brought up this challenge already in the 1990s and attributed this fact to a host of conditions intertwined with globalization, which we’ll explore throughout the book. Around COVID-19, those risks lead to a host of questions that, most commonly, would need to be answered by domain experts: How dangerous is the virus? Why are there such differences in death toll within and between countries—and will this difference persist? How long will we need to socially distance? When will there be a vaccine? What will be the new normal? Except that, in this situation, there are few experts that have the whole picture. Everyone—from Nobel Prize winners down through presidents and prime ministers to state epidemiologists—is still figuring it out. To some extent, the answer is still in the lab, with the caveat that, unfortunately, the lab isn’t small; it is the world as we know it.

In the book I’m going to use “Coronavirus” and “COVID-19” interchangeably, given the lack of great options due to the confusion caused by a poorly chosen official name for the virus.

Just to be sure this is clear, the WHO International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) announced “severe acute respiratory syndrome-related Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)” as the name of the new virus on February 11, 2020, which connects it to SARS, which was unhelpful in a myriad of ways. That disease was different in terms of infectious period, transmissibility, clinical severity, and extent of community spread, and radically different in terms of social outcome and historical significance. The WHO was afraid the connection to SARS would create “unnecessary fear” in Asia, but the opposite may be the case, since I would say an appropriate amount of fear would have been helpful. Arguably, the name has contributed to obscuring the fact that this disease was novel in a plethora of society-shattering ways and should have been narrated more closely to previous deeply scary diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Ebola virus (EBOV)[CKB3] [Y4]  in order to better reflect its genetic and societal punch.

I also note that the WHO announced “COVID-19” as the name of this new disease, which connects it to the year it began (2019) but obscures the fact that the full impact was felt in 2020. Finally, I’m aware of 5000+ existing strains of Coronavirus in animal populations, so clearly that term isn’t perfect either since it is, unfortunately, bound to be the generic name for a plethora of future infectious diseases.

I make this distinction to foreshadow that the naming of a disease is an early and important step in shaping the narrative. The direction of a disease narrative has a deeply meaningful impact not only on how decision makers see the challenge but also on how people in general see it, how we react, and what we end up doing about it.

As social scientists like Bruno Latour (1983) have shown, beyond the biological impact of a virus (its genetic makeup), which, for instance, makes it deadly if certain conditions are met, a virus doesn’t in and of itself have the power to change the world.

In nature, microbes hide, and the result is largely invisible and messy, and sometimes catastrophic. In contrast, in laboratories microbes get exposed, isolated, nurtured, and can be (for the most part) contained and mobilized in useful ways. The resulting sociotechnical networks consist of microbes, scientists, and experimental results, mediated by sponsors who invest in the potential treatments, and are (if we are lucky) subsequently followed by antiviral drug compounds and vaccines, which, in turn, need health workers to administer them and patients to accept the treatment.

In that process, the (now) assembled, technical entities have agency in the same sense as social actors, in that they can be credited with being the source of actions (disease outcomes and cures, even, as well as disease trajectories, e.g., “we have the disease contained”), but only because they are enacted and now have a clear role to play in the mixed blessing that is the contemporary public health landscape.

Before the work of Louis Pasteur, these powers of the microbes were only latent, according to Latour (1983). Since they became activated in the real world outside the lab, as long as you followed “a set of laboratory practices—disinfection, cleanliness, conservation, inoculation gesture, timing and recording,” it got extended to every French farm, and in the years to follow, across the world. [CKB5] [Y6] 

If we make the analogy to the world’s current struggle with Coronavirus: before we get efficient cures or vaccines, the world needs to “get behind” the properties of Coronavirus, so we can properly support the work going on in laboratories, not just financially but in agreeing to enlist in human trials already now, and in being willing to codevelop the response through joining a common narrative. Even before vaccine candidates emerge, the negotiation with the antivaxxers begins, because without “herd immunity” through vaccinating a high percentage of the world’s population, there is no end in sight. And in all this, we need to be prepared for disappointments along the way, given the long timelines and uncertain success of vaccines.

The nuances of that process of discovery, its subtle narration, and its corresponding societal impact are still poorly understood today and remain the source of many of the problems that surround how infectious diseases become pandemics as well as whether they are contained or not. The problem isn’t to get to the facts, but to successfully negotiate what the agreed facts are going to be.

Coronavirus is now subject to a global fight for the narrative that will ultimately hold. In the first phase, the unique narrative framing power was held by Chinese doctors in Wuhan who initially characterized it as a “strange influenza” (that characterization stayed with the virus for quite long and characterized the early response) although one of them, Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang, shared a WeChat about the new “SARS-like virus.” This was followed by the local government who continued calling it “pneumonia of unclear cause” or “viral pneumonia,” followed by the Chinese national government, who eventually brought in the WHO calling it an “unknown illness” and subsequently map the virus genome and starts calling it a “Coronavirus.”

From that point onward, public health officials held significant sway, emphasizing that the disease broadly was about “poor public hygiene,” but only until national politicians attempted to get on top of the debate, at which point the question of “economic impact” became inextricably linked to the core of the narrative. Some attempted to frame it as a “Chinese” problem or a “problem with China,” and initially call it the “Wuhan virus” (from its origin, despite the fact that there are numerous viruses with that name already) or “Chinese virus” (which would be highly imprecise).

Others have brought up the disease as a “consequence of globalization” or simply “urbanization” and particularly the “growth of megacities.” There’s also the case to be made that it is “caused by superspreaders,” whether they be individuals or cultural practices such as mass gatherings to watch sports, listen to concerts, or engage in religious worship or business practices such as congregating in offices and having meetings.

As the nature of needed measures trickled down to regional, local, and city level, those authorities became even more important in shaping the way people understood and acted around the disease.

In the middle of all of this, health workers, from doctors to nurses to emergency medical technicians (EMTs), have been called in as “expert witnesses” and have so far largely focused on “equipment shortages.” Media has also inserted itself with the considerable framing power it represents, although largely without a point of view beyond “this is about us, the media, getting the deserved attention.” Months into the disease, economic experts are starting to dominate the debate. A likely next phase would involve a broader set of experts.

Already, the inclusion of nonprofits and celebrity spokespersons in the public narrative has brought in the notion that it is also about “race” and “disadvantaged groups” or even simply about “poverty.” The security angle is that the disease is important because of how it “enables terrorism” or “foments organized crime.” Extreme social media memes such as #BoomerRemover start to appear (presumably referring to the fact that the disease often attacks the older among us as a group). The meme is even factually wrong since it is the Silent Generation (born 1925–1945) that suffer the most, then Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964).

After that, subject to what happens to social movements ability to congregate in any meaningful way (but even through online means), the public response is likely to take center stage and the others (including government representatives of any sort) are likely to have to respond more than generate the thrust of the narrative (and response). The two—narrative and response—are deeply connected and likely cannot be viewed in isolation. To uncover what’s at stake, I will use techniques that make things visible, tangible, and knowable. Coronavirus is, of course, about all of these things and more. But a clearer picture can only be obtained from looking at infectious diseases in a historical perspective.

The consequences of the Black Death

The Black Death (1347–1353) killed 75 million to 200 million globally over 4 years, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351, cyclically wiping out huge chunks of population in the centuries to follow and remained quite active until 1750. There are still a few cases every year on each continent even today.

The Black Death is commonly believed to have been the result of plague, an infectious fever caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis which would have been transmitted from rodents to humans by the bite of infected flea. However, over the past few decades some holes in that theory have been found (Mackenzie, 2001). Notably, the rapid speed of spread as well as the quarantine practices (quarantining humans not rodents or fleas) at the time would indicate the presence of a more virulent agent than what we find in the plague that reoccurs from time to time in our own society (Scott & Duncan, 2001). Other culprits, such as anthrax, hemorrhagic viral fever, and louse-borne typhus, have been proposed. For our purposes, the type of microbe is only relevant insofar as it points to how little we know about such a defining moment in human history. We must hope the current calamity can be better understood.

The initial social and economic effects of the Black Death were largely negative, including people abandoning their friends and family, fleeing cities, and shutting themselves off from the world. Funeral rites, one of the few public gatherings of those times, became perfunctory or stopped altogether, both because of the risks involved in gathering and because of the futility of making a big point out of the ordinary. There was, understandably, an atmosphere of fear, grief, and hopelessness in the years that followed.

After the immediate effects, discrimination ensued, as people sought to blame particular social groups, notably the Jews. Arguably, they were slightly less affected because they lived in ghettos and practiced cleanliness beyond the average of their times. That fact plus their general industriousness, which also made them cope better, became a reason for envy.

The Middle Ages was also a very violent time in human history. Military inventions that were developed during that period include the lance, the longbow, the crossbow, the flail, and armor, including chainmail.

Work changed in innumerable ways. The immediate impact was that work ceased due to lack of motivation, lack of funds to mount projects, as well as labor shortages. However, after the initial shock one discovered that the remaining workers had more tools and land to work, and became more productive, producing more goods and services. As a result, wages increased. This is familiar to economists who study the effects of labor demand, even today.

Eventually, people moved on and life continued, it was permanently slightly different. The plague created a change in medicine, farming, and housekeeping. Peasants were able to change the way that they were perceived and treated.

Numerable innovations, both incremental and radical, could be attributed to its aftermath. Metal cookware among serfs became commonplace, courtesy of more gracious landlords. Innovation of labor-saving technologies, including the one-stilt plough and switching out oxen for horses, started to change agriculture. Arguably, many of the technical inventions that resulted in miniaturization and even the printing press in 1454 were indirect impacts of the plague, as there was an increasing demand to be kept informed. The lesson here might be that elite information control is the first thing that goes south in the aftermath of a huge crisis, as everyone realizes the premium on timely, accurate information to organize themselves, be productive and take care of their loved ones. The emergence of literacy among the ruling classes including merchants, and eventually trickling down to larger swaths of the population followed.

The harnessing of time was another development. Public clocks started becoming common in places like Italy, which allowed time to be divided up more efficiently than simply following the patterns of the sun and moon.

Ironically, the Black Death is thought to have originated in Asia, perhaps among the Golden Horde and to have arrived in Europe through Italy, which is a grim yet interesting, perhaps instructive, parallel to today’s events. One could without doubt say that the Black Death was the first truly negative consequence of the flow of people and goods across great distances. On the other hand, it also contained the seeds of the industrial revolution that has spurred so many positive changes and altered the very platforms that fuel progress in our society.

However, the Black Death was in no way the only factor spurring these technological and societal changes, and many of the technologies and innovations we may simplistically wish to claim were direct results of the opportunities provided by the aftermath of the plague were actually either in place earlier (like advanced wool or silk manufacturing and windmills) or indeed took centuries to gain ground (like the creation of townships with elaborate governance). Even agriculture was already becoming more efficient before the plague and evolved gradually throughout the whole period.

Furthermore, it is important to point out that not only did the Black Death not determine all changes that took place but also not everything changed either. The Black Death, for all its impact, did not change the status of women in the labor force very much and arguably did not create substantially more, different, or better jobs for women. The separation of the home and work spheres was also kept very distinct for centuries to come, with a strictly gendered division of labor, where work in the fields was performed by men and household labor was performed by women. In the UK, labor law put in place further restrictions that hampered women’s entry into the labor force. The Ordinance of Labourers (1349) and the Statute of Labourers (1351) included a ban on wage increases and restrictions on movement in search for work, forcing women into permanent labor contracts, according to Oxford historian Jane Humphries (2014).

These qualifications are important to note as we ponder the impact of disease on society. Neither progress nor decline are linear, nor are they shaped by one factor alone. Disruptive change also doesn’t linearly lead to progress. Claiming otherwise will bring us into a lot of trouble.

Since the Black Death, there have been at least nine known pandemics, in 1729, 1732, 1781, 1830, 1833, 1889, 1918, 1957 and 1968, according to CIDRAP (2020), but they are without any discernible pattern. The key planning challenge is that they defy common postwar political timelines. For example, according to FullFact (2019), the average term of a UK government since the Second World War is 3.7 years. Parliamentarians typically sit for 3-6 years, depending which country we are talking about. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives serve two-year terms and are considered for reelection every even year, U.S. Senators however, serve six-year terms and the U.S. Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment. Kingdoms obviously don’t have term limits but are mostly ceremonial roles these days. Prime Ministers don’t typically have term limits but must wield support from Parliaments with three to six-year terms as well as political parties which each have their own election cycles.  

The impact of the 1918 influenza

The nation-state was first invented in Europe with the principle of territorial sovereignty agreed at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which spurred wider expansion. Over the centuries, as borders were drawn in various ways, gradual internationalization, and eventually the waves of globalization during the 20th century, made the world increasingly connected. This connectedness has had tremendous network effects, mostly positive.

However, toward the end of World War I and in the immediate aftermath, another tragedy hit. The Influenza of 1918, the slur being “Spanish flu,” although that was only where Patient 0 was first detected, took little more than 1 year to kill 50 million to 100 million people worldwide.

In a study of the 15 million who died in India during the outbreak, researchers found clear density thresholds, which put Calcutta as well as large parts of the coastline plus the Gangetic plain under much higher death loads than other parts of India.

When hundreds of thousands die of flu every year even today, they die from a strain of that flu. It’s unclear where that flu originated from, although France, China, and Britain have been suggested and the state of Kansas in the US is notorious for having the first known case. What we do seem to observe is that today’s strain typically originates from Southeast Asia.

The ultimate tale of what will happen with COVID-19 is too soon to tell, but that it perhaps will enter into world history as an event comparable in scale and impact to the Black Death and the Influenza of 2018 is now becoming apparent to some of us, if not all of us. The reason is not just its immediate impact in 2020 but stems from considering the fact that a novel and deadly pathogen is, again, in community spread, and will likely not leave us very quickly, perhaps not for decades or even generations, even if a cure or vaccine is developed relatively soon.

Even if this particular virus doesn’t in the end stand up to the Black Death in its significance (there’s always the chance), I’m quite certain that some emergent pandemic in the near future will. When reading onward, please keep this larger picture in mind just in case it becomes hard for you to imagine that what is happening in 2020 as such could have the magnanimous consequences I chart in the following pages.

Black Swans and beyond

How similar is the COVID-19 outbreak to either of these pandemics? What’s different about the COVID-19 situation isn’t so much the pathogen but the fact that it happens to a global society that considers itself highly advanced. It is one thing that a deadly flu virus can kill millions immediately after a world war that has left the international community with open wounds and poor capacity to respond to any new crisis. It is a whole other thing to fathom that an only slightly more pathogenic and slightly more contagious virus can wreak the kind of havoc that COVID-19 already has done to the world’s top economies as well as its top health-care systems, including the US and the UK. This is even before we have taken in the (necessarily) huge toll the disease will have upon the developing and emerging markets around the world, particularly upon its megacities.

Lebanese American author (and former Wall Street trader) Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s 2007[CKB7] [Y8]  book The Black Swan coined a term that has come to encapsulate the random appearance of highly improbable events that have high impact on an aspect of our society. Understandably, people were quick to announce that Coronavirus was a Black Swan event, as if that made it more acceptable.

Taleb describes how humans rationalize the Black Swan phenomenon to make it appear less random. Fittingly, his basic observation originated in an earlier book of his, Fooled by Randomness (2001[CKB9] [Y10] ). Examples Taleb gives of Black Swan events include the rise of the Internet, the personal computer, World War I, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Black Monday, the Dotcom Bubble, and the September 11, 2001 (aka 9/11) terrorist attacks. Later events that would conceivably fit the definition would be the 2008 Financial Crisis (e.g., 15 September 2008 when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and DOW began its 54% plunge) or Brexit, which was announced in 2016 and completed in 2020.

Now, the Coronavirus may or may not be a great fit for the term Black Swan. Arguably, it was not unpredictable, but has rather been foretold by journalists, documentary authors on infectious diseases, public health officials, and activists. The problem was perhaps not that we did not know it could happen but that it actually did.

As with previous times of great upheaval, it is clearly difficult to see the full ramifications of change when we are in the middle of it. However, there is considerable urgency in making the attempt. I want to note that taking a deep interest in this phenomenon does not, like Taleb, make me a “catastrophist.” Unlike Taleb, who has made millions advising private equity on Black Swan risks, I have no special interest in seeing such a thing happen or indeed a credible plan for profiting on it.

Rather, my main argument is that, in a much more substantial way than with previous pandemics, or indeed any other single events, the entire society will now potentially be re-jiggered to respond better to the next one. Or indeed, the world might just adjust itself without the need for a coordinated central command, due to the existence of a critical mass of an informed, mobile, and knowledgeable public. This contrasts to the Middle Ages’ illiterate population and 1918’s relative dearth of a worldwide consumer market capable of surge response and independent market shifts based on social dynamics alone.

A pandemic is also not a single event, but an avalanche of connected events. And, even if it is not, which is of course also a possibility, we would have to live with the awareness that we are taking an increasingly calculated, knowable risk by continuing as if nothing had happened.

Bouncing back, better and different

The question is, of course, what does that mean in order to return to normality? But before that, why do I think that this pandemic will lead to such drastic change in the very fabric of society? Isn’t it the case that we will “bounce back,” as US President Trump has said on many an occasion?

I’m looking at the severity of the crisis; the emerging data on the impact on key societal areas of work, life, and play; and the fact that the crisis is unfolding on a global scale contemporaneously.

Moreover, the world’s “confidence” that it has made major progress in economic development, quality of life, technology, and myriad other areas has never been greater. The fall from grace, or the readjustment, is poised to be of similar magnitude. While some will forget what happened, many will not, and the institutional fabric around us will make quite serious readjustments. Just in terms of magnitude, let’s say 9/11 was at a level 5 in terms of a global crisis—and caused a rethinking of air travel, building security, international relations, terrorism, and interstate cooperation and information sharing, and much more. If so, COVID-19 is at a level 8, and is likely to cause far greater changes, a host of intermediate changes as well as a plethora of long-term changes that might be hard to imagine right now.

The only more severe event I can think of at this time (short of an alien attack, which I, even with my futurist hat on, consider quite unlikely) would be a true extinction event related to the uncontrolled spread of a much more lethal pandemic (say an Ebola-like pathogen), nuclear war, or a global environmental disaster and ensuing ecological cataclysm with severe, lasting implications for air quality. We may, of course, have to be prepared to handle those as well, but this might be the second chapter of the story and hopefully some time into the future. But can we gamble on it?

Learning to respond

Pandemic Aftermath introduces anybody who cares about the future of our society to three key strategies to understand the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the world, learning from our collective failure to anticipate and respond effectively with the express idea of disrupting existing modes of response.

While the Coronavirus pandemic is widely seen as unexpected, for example, the ultimate Black Swan event, in contrast, I would argue that the key failures were foreseeable—a fourfold lack of response coming from the domains of foresight, government, media, and innovation. However, my perspective is optimistic and future oriented.

The book offers five ways to look at what happens next (i.e., scenarios) based on my study of the forces of disruption that brought on the pandemic, and also potentially could remedy its consequences or even enable segments of society to thrive on it.

Charting the forces of disruption

The first portion of the book is nonfiction. The second portion is a scenario-based novel: the book charts new territory by interweaving the grim reality of 2020 with a first-person exploration of the next decade as if we were already in it.

Given that there is so little certainty right now, a nonfiction book seemed premature, but given the real stakes, a fully fictionalized approach of the near future seemed incomplete.

Understand the forces of industry disruption. A crucial skill in this new situation is to learn to track changes in emerging tech, policy, business, and social dynamics as a strategic framework that presents clear priorities to chase, interrelationships to be aware of, and gaps to fill.

How did COVID-19 become a pandemic? The book traces the virus from its inception in Wuhan, China, through Europe and the US and throughout the world, emphasizing superspreader incidents, bottlenecks, and other key inflection points.

How did key stakeholders handle it? Next, I move to considering how Coronavirus was handled across the world, diving into who the main actors turned out to be, what they did, and what the immediate consequences appear to be.

What are the impacts of the virus and the measures? Finally, I consider what the appearance of the virus means for work, education, politics, and our planet as the world moves on from the shock and starts to consider its aftermath.

Scenarios for the next decade

Why already ponder what’s next? The world is, arguably, still in the middle of fighting the virus and its impact. What could possibly be said about the future? Well, the truth appears to be that if we don’t already start planning for the next virus—or even just for how to live with the current virus long term—we will face even more earth-shattering negative consequences.

Responding to this need, I have drawn up a few immediate scenarios—new ways to think about the future. Scenario thinking is usually a way to prepare for an imagined future. Instead, I would argue, these sweeping societal changes will happen much faster. I have drawn up five. In this case, each of the scenarios are quite near term; in fact, we are living in versions of each of them right now. Crafting solid scenarios can help us, as citizens, policy makers, or business leaders, decide which path we want to chart for what lies ahead. Or, as it were, distilling key facets of the reality we are already living, we might learn to live with it a bit better. Leaving aside the details, let me also state that different parts of the world seem to respond differently to this crisis. Therefore, the potential is that we will shatter into regional or national worlds. We will get into that in the last section of the book.

Broadly, I see five scenarios for our post-Coronavirus future. The five scenarios considered are: borderless world, nation-state renewal, two worlds apart, Hobbesian chaos, and status quo.

Scenario I: Borderless world.

In this scenario, we consider what it would look like if world leaders were able to fully implement globalization as well as solidarity and implementation strategies to fix the weakest links (e.g., health systems in Africa).

Scenario II: Nation-state renewal.

This scenario considers a situation where borders close down and people stop traveling huge distances, perhaps because of a principle of proximity where long-distance travel and contact with more than 50 people a week is discouraged, perhaps outlawed.

Scenario III: Two worlds apart.

This scenario considers a radical acceleration of the separation of the top 1% of population from the 99%. It foresees entire new cities purposefully constructed to avoid contagion, filled with the world’s most expensive real estate, governed by their own laws.

Scenario IV: Hobbesian chaos.

This scenario considers a possible next decade where survival of the fittest becomes an extreme reality. Rule of law ceases to exist, and clans and ideological movements sweep through the earth with constant struggle and fight for scarce resources as a result.

Scenario V: Status quo.

This scenario considers the possibility that nothing much at all will be different as a result of the 2019–2020 Coronavirus pandemic. That is, after a period of readjustment, society and the world economy, on most dimensions, will not be significantly altered by this pandemic experience. Science will largely continue as before, as a slow evolution most akin to the table game Chutes and Ladders, up and down, through triumphs and failures. Technology will make progress at the same pace as before (nonlinearly and in surprising ways). Businesses will operate in the same way. Governments will operate as before, nation-states will not change, international organizations will still battle for relevance. Social dynamics will not change. Consumption patterns will go back to what they were before. The status quo scenario will still contain foreseen improvements in technology roughly according to the lines we see right now and will attempt to chart a continuing trendline for other broad macro developments (e.g., globalization, urbanization, consumerization, etc.).

Broadly, this book will:

•          provide a conceptual framework for the sociopolitical reality of Coronavirus;

•          help you imagine the next decade’s technology, society, and physical proximity; and

•          provide a blueprint for leadership, far beyond public health.

In sum, the choices before us as a global society, which of course largely means the choices nation-states and their voting citizens make, are important and far outshine public health considerations as such. The question before us is how to live through the crisis—and live beyond it—in a dignified and meaningful way. I’m writing this book with at least that question in mind. I fear not everyone will have that perspective, given that the survival instinct and self-protection, as well as the opportunities envisioned by taking a more egotistical approach, would also become quite evident in the time to come.

We should not only be planning for the pandemics of tomorrow (which we should also do) but also for the society of tomorrow. Doing so simultaneously will require a different dialogue and ambition level than the world has had over the past 50 years, at the very least. There is no time to lose.


The author shall in no event be liable for any decision taken by the reader or any organization based on this book. Under no circumstances shall the author be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the use or inability to use the book for forecasting or other purposes. The entire risk arising out of the use of the book remains with the reader.

About the author

Trond Undheim is a futurist, speaker, entrepreneur and former director of MIT Startup Exchange. He is the CEO and cofounder of Yegii. He holds a PhD on the future of work and artificial intelligence and cognition. Undheim is the author of Leadership From Below (2008) and Disruption Games (2020). view profile

Published on May 24, 2020

Published by Atmosphere Press

100000 words

Genre: Business & Management

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