For reasons which probably stretch back to the way the Romans ran their military and their civilian administration, the numbers 10 and 100 have had a special significance in our Western lives for the past two thousand years or so. And at our esteemed, loved and highly rated local monthly newspaper this edition is special to us. We’ve been going ten years and this is our 100th edition.
Hats off to everyone but especially Kate, who has watched over us as our publisher, friend, ideas factory, Covid recovery patient and backer. Three cheers for Kate and her board; three cheers for the small team which designs the newspaper and ‘gets it out” and three cheers for the young teams she has put together too. They may not know it immediately but they will look back at their time with KCWLondon with thanks and some pride.
In these more difficult times, especially this wretched pandemic which has made and remade itself making it doubly difficult to find a vaccine, it is easy to look down. But look up: the virus (Round 1) has been conquered. I am not a scientist but thousands and thousands of them have been beavering away quietly since March trying to understand the DNA of this virus, and then have put in the hours to find a solution. Across the world there are at least four large ‘pharma’ companies who have found the ‘cause’ and as the vaccine is rolled out we may, and it may be a big ‘may’, finally return to some kind of normality, but it will be a new normality. Change has been in the air in every sense.
You might ask why a pandemic should change the way we work and play. Well, it does. Wars are a pandemic of sorts. They foreshorten our knowledge base in so many ways. In WW1, America had separate units for black and white soldiers. In WW2, they fought alongside one another. They may have returned to a segregated life in 1945 but it was the spur which gave strength to John Lewis and Martin Luther King, to Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. These brave and brilliant leaders took on old empires and even older notions of the essential being of mankind and set new rules for all of us. Ditto Covid-19.
The biggest change will be in the way we work, the way we live and work from home, the way we will go on genuflecting to Zoom, to Teams and to Meet, the way we use our time and the way we redefine what an office should be for. This will cause short term funding gaps. If we don’t rush to work in the rush hour, then our public transport will run into massive debts as TfL has shown. But, if we want a better quality of life and a seat on the tube, maybe rationing our travel will be the new, new. And fares may have to rise. But as Mies van der Rohe, the great architect, was fond of saying: ‘Less is More’, and ‘Less is More’ may just have a second innings as we all reconsider how we spend our waking hours.
If we don’t go to work as frequently, do we go to work at all? Well, the answer is a resounding “Yes”. We are social animals and we need interaction with our fellow human beings. We will not need to go so religiously but we will need a place to meet, to chat, to attend meetings and to have fun. New ways of using an office – not just closing them down, which is happening across our ‘smarter’ cities – will arise. I think the way forward is for the office block to announce its engagement to a three or four star hotel. You will work and you will maybe sleep two days a week in the new, new ‘Oftel’. For the remainder you will work at home for two, sometimes three, days a week. This would be tough if you lived in a flat and had no garden. I can see Parks and Pubs offering a ‘day table club’ to enable you to walk to a different type of work space. And one benefit of this is we would all know our community better and start to do more things locally. If you commute in from Saffron Walden, Colchester or Woking, your trains, refashioned, will provide worker spaces which you will rent as part of your day ticket. The moment you log into your work system on board, would start your working day off.
Much of the boredom of work would be done, as it is increasingly being done today, by robots and/or AI. In the Tortoise Media AI index which places the USA at 100, we have in the past year slipped from 48 to 40 whilst China has gone from 51 to 61. We have had our eye off the AI ball. Politicians love telling us that they have spent £x or £y billions on ‘stuff’ but unless we see the global tables it does not tell us much. In AI we were the leaders alongside the USA but no longer. As I might have been saying for a while, Parliament and Whitehall has inhabited an analogue world whilst we have been busy playing in the digital space. Until there is a fundamental realignment of both Parliament and Whitehall our standard of living will continue to fall.
I don’t want to finish on a low note.
In January, we worried about the forthcoming USA Presidential election (and rightly as it turned out) and Brexit. Now we worry just about ConvEx, seeing the virus defeated and making the very best from Brexit. It will take us the next ten years to refashion and reboot our society, and how exciting this challenge will be. We just need a tad more leadership!