How We'll AgeLouise Aronson, geriatrician, UCSF School of Medicine
Elderhood is as varied as childhood and adulthood, and this crisis has affected elders in different ways—depending on age, to some extent, but also on income and ethnicity. Many are confronting their own version of the anxiety and uncertainty we all feel. Others who are nearing the end of life hear that they're going to spend much of it locked up, and some think, what the hell is the point? Even before the pandemic, we'd done a lot to strip older lives of purpose and meaning.
Nursing homes are getting more attention and sympathy now than ever before, and that's wonderful. But I worry that it reinforces a narrow, myopic notion of old age. Ninety-three percent of older people do not live in facilities. Think about our leaders: Nancy Pelosi, age 80. Anthony Fauci, 79. Donald Trump, 74. They make efforts to look younger, but the fact is they're doing what they're doing as old people. And if they looked like what they were, they would really be transforming society.
We tend to think you're either a helper or a person who needs help. The fact is, we're usually both at the same time, throughout life. There are older people who need physical help but their brains are fine, so why aren't we having them tutor children or immigrants? We need to stop blaming old age for our failures of creativity.
Right now, around 70 percent of nursing homes are run by for-profit owners, and the lobby for that is hugely powerful. The penalties for doing things wrong are tiny; the staff is paid badly. We have a real opportunity right now to pair these glaring flaws with the incredible need for jobs. We've got a lot of people who need jobs and a lot of jobs that need people. This is a chance to look into the future in a sensible, compassionate, human-first way.
—As told to Anthony Lydgate
How We'll CreateJoy Harjo, US poet laureate
When all the usual places of inspiration and entertainment are closed to us, and we can’t even attend a funeral or sit beside a loved one in need, our outlook turns inward. To know what to look for when we turn inward, we turn to poetry and art. During the pandemic, these are doing what they’ve always done: finding us doorways to fresh knowledge of ourselves as human beings and as cocreators on this planet.
Art teaches us to live a life that has meaning, by accepting the responsibility of becoming aware. Inside our little beehives, we are now growing more attentive. We’re paying attention to food sources, for example. We’re asking, who’s bringing my food to me? How is it prepared? We should also ask, when we go back out do we continue as we were, or are there things we need to let go? Art answers: Leave behind that which isn’t nourishing. Not only have we been in a culture that’s marked by a predominance of processed foods, there’s also a predominance of processed ideas, colonized ideas, that follow a particular template toward a particular end, namely fame and money.
We’re at a crucial and incredible moment of reckoning, and of opportunity. The pandemic challenges us to recognize the immense experiment that planet Earth is, and that human beings are part of the same community—all peoples, past and future ancestors, animal human beings, tree human beings. We have been thrown into the center of knowing. Our great challenge will be in sustaining what art helps us become.
—As told to Zak Jason
How We'll LearnJanice K. Jackson, CEO, Chicago Public Schools
If you had asked me three months ago, “Janice, how long would it take you to put together a remote learning program?” I would say, “Give me two to three years.” Turns out, we did it in a couple of weeks. Right away, we focused on meeting students’ basic human needs, like providing meals. We also distributed more than 124,000 laptops and tablets.
A life-altering event like this brings equity into sharper focus. Unfortunately, the kids who were most vulnerable before the closures—low-income students and students of color—have been put at a greater disadvantage. That’s something we should keep top of mind: How do we use this as an opportunity to solve inequities that existed prior to the pandemic?
In the past, people might have considered providing students with technology as a nice-to-have. Now it’s clear that a lack of internet access is a barrier to education, and as a city we’re currently looking at ways to respond to that need. I hope there’s a greater investment in public education after this. People would be outraged if a school didn’t have adequate textbooks. They should be outraged from this point forward if every child doesn’t have an internet-connected device.
Students and educators are finding such creative ways to lift each other up. Every day, I see something online that gives me joy, like teachers driving in “car parades” through their students’ neighborhoods. One school posted a video of a kid presenting his science fair project. At first I thought, “Poor baby.” But now he has an audience of thousands. I hope we don’t lose that in our post-Covid world.
—As told to Pia Ceres
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How We'll ListenEthan Diamond, CEO, Bandcamp
The pandemic has caused a lot of fans to reevaluate how they support their favorite musicians. We had a campaign to draw attention to artists who lost their income from touring revenue. In 24 hours, we raised $4.3 million. The next one we did raised $7.1 million. For the vast majority of artists, streaming services essentially generate spare change. Our business is modeled on a revenue share, where we only make money if the artist makes a lot more money. We’ve seen a big uptick in sign-ups from artists, labels, and fans, and in the amount of money flowing through the site—vinyl, digital sales, CDs, T-shirts, everything. We’ve just launched a vinyl pressing service, where fan orders finance the pressing of the records, so there’s no up-front cost to an artist. Artists who offer physical goods on Bandcamp make a lot more than the ones who don’t. Why would anybody buy music anymore when you can pay a monthly fee and get all the music in the world? The fact that we’re selling 77,000 records a day is proof that people want to have direct relationships with artists. Streaming is a lot like radio, and fans lose connections and context—you’re not looking at the liner notes or holding the physical object in your hand. For a certain type of music fan, something is lost that they’re looking to get back. Even after the pandemic, I expect we’ll still see a lot more direct support of artists, which is great for music overall.
—As told to Kate Knibbs
How We'll MoveJanette Sadik-Khan, New York City transportation commissioner (2007-2013); principal, Bloomberg Associates
Just a few short months ago, we thought the future of cities would be autonomous vehicles and big data and escooters and e-hail companies. Then the bottom dropped out and traffic fell 50 percent across the US. Our streets haven’t been this quiet since cars first emerged, and they may not be this quiet again in our lifetimes. I think the global transportation response to this has really less to do with new tech and more to do with revealing the streets that we’ve always needed.
In Oakland, Denver, Minneapolis—all these cities are using this opportunity to make the kinds of changes that they wanted to see a decade ago, when taking space from cars was viewed as an assault on the status quo. Brussels and Berlin have extensive new bike lanes. Milan is converting car lanes into bike lanes and expanding its sidewalks. Vilnius and Tampa are taking away parking lanes and even entire streets in the city center for restaurants or cafés.
It’s so eerie to see these empty streets, but they’re really a blank slate. People are looking at this moment to bring new life to cities without bringing back the old congestion and the traffic and the pollution that threatened them before. If we can make it easier for people to get around without having to own a car and paying to operate, maintain, and park it, that’s money that can be used for health care, for education, for housing. This is a moment for cities to be as big and bold as the crisis we’re addressing.
—As told to Aarian Marshall
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