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Reflections During a Pandemic

 

These are really interesting times. I spent the better part of 2010 through 2012 in a rural village located in the Mphahlele region of South Africa doing development projects with the Peace Corps. I didn’t have running water, my electricity was spotty and for the most part, English wasn’t everyone’s first language. Needless to say, I was isolated.

 

I did have some glimmers of normalcy. I would hop on the one bus that would come to my village to go down to a second village at the base of the plateau wxhere I lived. There I would board a taxi, depending on the day I would either go to Lebowakgomo A or Polokwane. Lebowakgomo A was 40 minutes away and Polokwane was 60 minutes and some change. Both were my shopping towns and getting to them was not easy.

 

Besides my excursions to my shopping towns, I spent a lot of time in the village. I mean a lot. I was also alone a lot. I learned how to rewire a house, build things and speak a language or two. I had a lot of amazing projects and people in my life at that time. I was the most alone that I have ever been in my life. I also had the understanding that someday I would return back to the US. This was always my light because the US was normal and safe to me.

 

Here I am a mid 30 something with a good career, a business, and a start to a wonderful family. I live in a nice house in an up and coming neighborhood. What is different and all too familiar is that we have this quasi shelter at home in effect. This one is not in place because the roads washed out and I can’t catch a bus. It’s because of a virus.

 

I have to pause and think about that. A virus. It’s like I’m back in the Peace Corps except with the creature comforts of home, Instagram and my dog. It’s all too familiar and foreign all at the same time. I watch people’s stories on the Gram (Instagram) about being in quarantine and the sentiment I get is that people are catching a more panicked glimpse of what the Peace Corps experience was like.

 

For me relating it to my experience in the Peace Corps is rationalizing what is going on. Limited quantities of items and a really weird unknown. I’m writing this to help me process what is happening. It is also a chance for me to start to understand what will happen. My wife is working in the VA system and is on the frontlines of medical care. My mother has been a physician for over 40 years. Both are worried about the impact of this virus. Both of these are a completely different stories, I will expand on this in my next post. All I can say is that there is a sense of fear because my wife is working directly with people and my mother is in her late 70’s is still going to work. Talk about surreal.

 

I have to think about the future. I don’t feel like we are prepared for the worst and I’m not even sure what the worst contains. The vulnerability makes us compromised. My job is to discover trends and understand how they are going to affect people and businesses. I’ve been researching topics like, “what do companies do after a pandemic? What plans need to be put in place before a recession?” It’s tough to say how this pandemic will change things moving forward.

 

Putting a marketing lens on all of this is even more challenging. The consumer is still consuming. I think we have passed the first panic stage of buying. The toilet paper shelves are still empty, as are the disinfectants. People are starting to settle into their new routines and realizing that much of their work can probably be done from home.

 

In the next few weeks or months, I’m curious to see how people will deal with low interaction. Most of us have moved to a completely digital/removed setting when it comes to working. Ad spends will go up and companies will have to pivot for a bit more to meet consumer demand.

 

We will have to look at the frameworks around what past societies that did not have extreme digital reliance and how they navigated through events like these. At the end of this, if anything, we are learning to reconnect with each other. Not so much around the digital side but the time side. I am enjoying that people are interacting again. I even joined a group text where we are sharing our regular daily activities.

 

It’s the actions of the people around us that bring me some faith that there will be closer relationships at the end of this.

Written by: Mike Braunlin

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