Covid-19 simply will not have any long-term effects on society. Disease is not an agent of social change. Instead, technology drives more changes in society than disease does.
1) Disease Does Not Cause Social Change
Disease simply is not an agent for social change. Gay and bisexual men continue to have unprotected sex despite the presence of HIV. In Colorado, a third of men who have sex with men have HIV and this number will increase over time despite advances in treatment and prevention. HIV’s terrible legacy, the countless lives lost who we only remember through passing thoughts among loved ones and those who succumb to the disease currently, are clearly not enough to encourage condom use or larger social changes among men who have sex with men.
The 1911 Spanish Flu and Polio did not last too long in the memories of those who went through it. Even though a vaccine cured polio, that information was not enough for people to continue to use vaccines in this century. Today, most people do not get flu vaccines. China recently allowed the sale of exotic animals again, even though SARS-COV1 (SARS) and SARS-COV2 (COVID-19) spread faster through these markets. Nor was SARS enough for China to make sweeping public health reforms, such as wrapping foods in supermarkets or enforcing cleanliness standards.
In the United States, the presence of COVID-19 is not enough for the government to reform our healthcare system. The ideological commitment to a free market in all areas of life trumps anything else in today’s America.
The tangible presence of diseases simply fails to change how we navigate our world. By extension, I don’t see any long-term impacts on art, how it’s produced, or how it’s consumed directly caused by the disease.
2) Tech, not disease, changes lives
Changes in technology that increasingly automated the production and distribution of art happened before COVID-19, and they will not stop regardless of the disease. It might sound strange to think of content delivery as an automated process now, but robots and algorithms power the websites you use to consume media. Art replication is automated, and in music, the performances are largely automated through software.
Technology is the largest driver of social change, as new tools allow us to navigate the world faster, better, or worse. This operates independently of disease. Certain pastimes that were impossible before, such as video games, are now commonplace. Methods of production and consumption of music, and to a greater extent all products, are fueled by technological developments that adapt over time to our needs in a feedback-loop mechanism where the technology changes us, and in turn we change the technology to suit the new society.
The boundaries between man and machine now are porous at best. Academics typically refer to online spaces as if they are some novel idea, like a foreigner speaking about seeing palm trees for the first time. However, online platforms existed since 1990—thirty years ago. These changes are brought on so quickly that, academia being about 100 years in the past, simply fails to see them yet.
Our legacies exist in online spaces, as do the ideas we interact with and enjoy. Our work, through the proliferation of cloud storage, exists almost entirely online now. When we take an idea we read online, and apply it to our life offline, the online idea influences how we act offline. So, even if a computer is off, the ideas remain in our heads and continue to shape the ways in which we construct our reality.
Consequently, we ought to be more concerned with how the technology we use shapes our beliefs and worldviews, and the exchanges in power that occur when we use online platforms. Algorithms that control what you see and when you see it can adversely affect the worldview of individuals, and people allow themselves to develop tunnel vision.
Online platforms are inherently restrictive spaces, for they control exactly what you may or may not do within the platform. There is nothing wrong with restriction, for we face regulations on life every day through laws and social customs. However, when a platform is too restricted, it enforces its own fascistic tendencies beyond that which is reasonable, at the expense of the free exchanges of ideas and overall intellectual growth of its participants.
While I focused on the digital realm, I’d also like to bring up a larger history of colonization that was only possible through the advances in shipping. The Dutch empire, for instance, was only able to sail across the ocean when her ships were strong and powerful enough. The intersection of the civilized European world, and the sophisticated empires American Indians, such as the Aztecs, Utes, and Hopi, eventually led to the utter destruction and castration of the rival empires—destruction partly possible due to ships.
The existence of the English and Spanish languages in the United States is the tangible proof of the success over the European colonial powers over the colonial powers that previously existed in America. It is naïf and childish, while also disrespectful, to assume that the Aztecs and other populations were not interested in power and domination. Where their power fell depends on the tribe and circumstance. Spanish colonists were able to convince tribes the Aztecs took over to fight the Aztecs in exchange for freedom. What the colonists did not specify was that the natives fought for freedom from their own culture and way of life.
Cultural destruction is the largest and most concrete example of social change possible through technology. Entire societies and empires with beautiful beliefs and ways of life foreign and incomprehensible to the Europe and her powers and most contemporary Americans. These beliefs currently exist as decayed leaves blowing in the fall wind, hopefully attached to a soul who may experience them in a future life and keep them alive, albeit in a distorted form.
COVID-19 simply cannot, and will not, have as much change on the world as what I brought up previously. Do not buy into fearmongering.