This has been kind of a default question I keep getting asked lately, which makes perfect sense: it’s the question on ALL our minds. And, my default answer’s pretty much that I don’t know. But I can guess. Except—quick qualifier—my guesses have nothing to do with economic recovery or collapse, second waves, foreign travel, whether there’ll be empty office complexes, whether basketball teams will play only for the cameras, whether concerts will be for cars not crowds, what’s gonna happen with gyms and movie theaters and restaurants and mass transportation, what kind of new pincer-hold all this is giving social media in our lives, any of that big important stuff. The same as when I’m writing a novel, that’s just not the kind of stuff that interests me.
It EFFECTS me, yes, sure, of course, and I imagine I SHOULD be a better participant and educate myself on it, so I can either help or hedge against it. But . . . when I’m writing, say, what I’m always fascinated with are the small things. Like, some big-time science fiction writer, I forget who—I’d guess this to be either Clarke or Gibson—said that the way to make science fiction feel real and lived in, it’s to drop some ‘fantastic’ whatever into the landscape, and let it ripple out, such that the fiction doesn’t have to account for the source of that splash, but the distant-most ripples, which kind of vaguely suggest the ‘shape’ of that initial fantastic whatever, which is of course beneath talking about, would only be of interest to us ancestors.* Example, example . . . yeah: what if, in Morgan’s Altered Carbon, there were no mullets, because everyone’s worried about their stack (at the base of their skull), wants to be able to assure themselves it’s there and intact immediately, not have to go through a mat of cool-looking hair? Or, Cameron’s Dark Angel: what if there were no mullets there because everyone’s back-of-the-neck barcodes had to be instantly scannable? Those are the kind of details that interest me (“Mullet Details”), always, and, so, those are the kinds of ‘forecast’-stuff that I’m also into. Which is why whether we’re entering some version of the Dust Bowl only concerns me as a person who wants to eat and breathe, not as a writer.
So, here’s what I in my limited way see on the maybe-horizon for the world, when and if COVID-19 is thankfully receding in our rearview mirror:
➔ More mouth-breathing. Just because that’s what we’re all doing behind out masks, simply to strain ‘clean’ air in through that mesh. But, once the masks come off? Will we still all be slackjawed like Cletus on The Simpsons? I think there’s a really good chance we might be, yeah. Or, it’s going to take some very conscious effort to get that chin back up, anyway. Related to this: will we all be loudtalkers, that is, still pushing our voices not just through the mufflers our masks are, but also across those necessary six feet? Possibly, I suspect. I do know that I, at least, am going to have to learn to smile politely again, as with the mask covering my mouth, smiles are useless. Related to THAT: are we coming out of this better able to read people’s eyes, I wonder? Do we get more from them? And, are we adapting by becoming now more expressive with our sclera, our brow-raising and -lowering, our squinting and blinking? Gonna be a brave new world, if so. And, could be eyeliner stock is the stock to buy, as it accentuates that kind of action . . .
➔ More speeding tickets. I mean, when we all stealthily drive down to the local grocery store or wherever, it’s a bleak empty place out there, isn’t it? And, though there have been no announcements (I’ve been listening), I very strongly suspect that traffic officers have been told that it’s better to protect themselves from the virus than it is to meet some quota. And it is, of course. We don’t need more people endangering themselves. However, the RESULT of that is that it’s kind of Mad Max-y out there: the road is ours. And there’s no consequences. At least not until this viral curfew is lifted, and all the municipalities need to make up for lost fine-dollars, and the traffic cops come out with extra ballpoint pens, for all the tickets they’ve been told they’re writing. Couple that with us having gotten used to a cloak of invisibility, and, yep: gonna be a lot of ticketable violations, I have to suspect.
➔ More STD’s? I have to suspect that, when people can go out and mingle again, their standards are going to maybe be momentarily relaxed for who they do and don’t bring back to their place. I mean, everybody’ll wear protection, maybe even mask up, but still. Though . . . I wonder if I’m not taking it far enough? Maybe this isn’t a “Your pad or mine?”-thing. Maybe the great outdoors will feel safer. Parks, bus benches, truck beds. Which I guess could lead to either more indecent exposure citations OR a relaxing of THOSE statutes, or maybe a generation of kids who learn the birds and the bees that way. Speaking of . . .
➔ More outdoor urination? Public restrooms are of course breeding grounds for who knows what—and that’s the problem. So, wonder if more people will be finding a bush to water, a tree to squat behind? But . . . what does THIS lead to, I wonder? Less hand-washing, I have to think. What does that DO to the outdoors, though? When I watch Deadwood, I mean, and people are always drunk and peeing against whatever wall will hold them up, I’m always wondering what this town must smell like. What will our WORLD smell like if everybody’s peeing outside? Used to there were less people, so maybe it wasn’t that bad a problem (though, yes, I’ve read about London before sanitation projects . . .). Now, though, now we’ve got just PLENTY of people. I don’t know. Maybe a step FURTHER to take this, even, is to a generation or two of us developing either more elastic bladders, so we can wait until we get home, or less pain receptors. If only we actually evolved that fast. More likely: individual instead of group restrooms. I guess that makes the most sense, to everyone except the people tasked with BUILDING all those “washclosets” (as they might come to be called again, being so small and tight). And I guess port-a-potties could bridge us across TO that future, though I kind of bet they’d have card-readers on the doors, too, as quality and hygiene is something we’d all pay for. And, if we’ll pay, then there’s for sure someone willing to GET paid. And, who knows, maybe those three seashells from Demolition Man finally come into play . . .
➔ A Newfound Respect for Trainrobbers? I mean, that is what we’re going to call ourselves, when we look back at all this, isn’t it? The train-robber generation. Just, there weren’t any trains to actually rob. That didn’t stop us from dressing up, though.
* really, whoever this was was talking about 3rd-or 4th-level details of a well-built fictional world, I think, but that’s a boring way to say it—which makes me think it probably wasn’t Gibson.
(and, I should have said what I’m going to probably MISS the most in this new-ish world: buffets. I’m already pre-missing them, I mean. it’s only going to get worse. I keep trying to force-imagine outdoor buffets, or buffets where only the servers can go up there, for which I tip especially heavily . . . but I know I’m just wishing)