History has shown us that global events, such as what we are experiencing right now, will have a major impact on people long after it has ended. In fact, the effects will touch future generations of children yet to be born. Some of these effects will be universal, others may vary from region to region, but it is inevitable that society will be different.
I vividly remember watching my grandmother carefully wrap the table bread in a napkin, place it in her purse, and take it with her when she left a restaurant. As a child, I was baffled; she had a grocery store right around the corner and could purchase an entire loaf of bread for under a dollar. It was explained to me that she had grown up during the Great Depression, when food was scarce, and despite knowing that she now had the means to purchase whatever food she desired, she had been conditioned to hoard such items whenever she had the opportunity.
So how will this pandemic change our behaviors? For the most part, we see it as a scourge, but there are also some positives that will come out of it. I think it’s best to separate it by generations, as it has impacted each of us differently as of right now. Future researchers will undoubtedly look back with more concrete data and be able to make better informed determinations of the effects. But for now, we will have to rely on educated guesses. Let’s take a look.
Baby Boomers and Older:
This is the 65+ crowd that has faced the biggest danger from Covid-19. The most obvious change is that the population has decreased due to the many deaths that have occurred. This has created a fear of an invisible killer that could come for them at any moment. It has also fostered a deep sense of isolation as family members have been indefinitely absent from their lives. The psychological impact on this generation will be great, as they have suffered the loss of individuals and invaluable time. That being said, no generation is better equipped to handle adversity from an emotional aspect.
The positive for this group is that a spectacular amount of attention is being placed on them right now. Whereas they are often a generation overlooked, they are currently at the forefront of most people’s minds. They were first in line for the vaccine. They are the reason people with less risk are taking extraordinary measures to stay healthy. They are the center of attention for family gatherings, albeit mostly virtual. Without them knowing it, their children and grandchildren are thinking and worrying about them constantly. It’s too early to tell, but it’s very likely that when we make it through the pandemic, this generation will be more celebrated and appreciated than they might have been otherwise. This may lead to much richer conclusions to their lives.
Gen X and Millennials:
This group represents the majority of the working population. While under normal circumstances they are generally viewed as having much different characteristics, they are currently facing the same situations. Many have suffered the loss of a loved one unexpectedly, a toll which can be tough to bear right now. What could have been done? Who can be blamed? With everything that’s going on, these deaths can easily be lost in the fog, with no way to properly celebrate the life of the person or even properly grieve.
On top of that, many of them are facing job insecurity, which can lead to a dramatic change in lifestyle. Families are being tested by financial stresses and the unprecedented experience of COMPLETELY living together. Outlets and personal ventures are being put on hold, and many are forced to sink or swim.
For this group, the biggest benefit to making it through the pandemic will be the experience of making it through. Most of us have never faced such a difficult experience before, and this certainly fits the bill. The adaptations and innovations that come from this group will have a gigantic impact on the progress of our society. Technology, education, business, and medicine are all drastically changing in ways to better face the future, and the people spearheading these changes come from this generation. This group will also have the best memory of this experience, and hopefully be responsible for preventing something similar from happening again in their lifetime.
Gen Z and the Future
This generation, much like every youngest generation throughout time, is often categorized as lazy and ill-prepared for the future. Well, guess what? They are being battle tested earlier than any of their predecessors. There is some legitimate concern that there will be an education gap. We’ve already seen it with students this year missing large chunks of knowledge we expected them to know coming into the school year. In addition, there’s a social maturity lost, especially for those students who have been forced to learn remotely.
Many of the things this generation has lost will be seen as superficial to the older generations, but everything that happens in our lives shapes who we are. So while not having a Senior Prom might not seem like a gigantic loss, we really don’t know the total effect it actually has on someone. Sure, plenty of people don’t go to their prom, but they make the choice not to. Taking away the choice could have a greater effect than one might think.
The psychological impact of dealing with the pandemic is probably the most severe for this generation. My 6 year old measures time by when “Coronavirus was on,” and has even asked me if it was on before he was born. Some children have lost all sense of normalcy, and since their lives have been so short, this has created a much greater hole for them than the rest of us.
The positives for this group are potentially the greatest. They have persevered through incredible circumstances at school and home. They have been asked to do much more than would normally be expected of them, and all without the developed understanding of the consequence of their actions. Adults wear a mask because they don’t want to get sick and pass it on to others. Kids generally lack that sense of altruism and are wearing masks because they’ve been asked to comply with the situation. They have lost access to a variety of leisure activities, and have found creative ways to entertain and enrich themselves. Their ability to create will greatly benefit them in the future.
Future generations will have the same sense of wonderment as to why their parents or grandparents do certain things. They’ll wonder why Grandma has a guest room filled with nothing but toilet paper. They’ll complain when their parents make them use hand sanitizer after touching anything. They’ll hear the stories of 2020 and mostly roll their eyes.
But they’ll be brought into this world with a greater appreciation for family. They’ll have greater access to medicine and technology. They will benefit from all the loss that previous generations suffered, and that is the ultimate silver lining.