Patricia Farrell's COLUMN

A Pandemic-inspired Lifestyle: How a virus and MR may change our lives

An imagined future after Covid-19

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Literature and film aren’t entertainment; they are predictions of what may come to be our future unknown life experience. Whether it is computer intelligence, suspended animation, or self-driving cars, the writers have used research to advance their medium.

Today, much of this change is driven by the force of a killer virus, COVID19, that like plagues before it, has transformed life as we have known it. We’ve seen some aspects of the “future,” but no one has an inside track on that one.

Consider the 1990 film “Total Recall,” where what is real is created in one’s mind to be “real.” Mental manipulation is critical. In such a world, the notion of a vacation is a fabrication of one’s wishes and finance. Want to experience life different from your current one?

Provide your fingerprint, an implanted chip in your hand, or a scan of your retina, and it’s yours. There will be no need to leave your current location. No packing, no scurrying to catch transportation, or worrying about your itinerary. It’s all planned out perfectly by an AI program or implant or drug. You will sit back and enjoy it whenever you want.

They could plan vacations for your lunch hour and compress them into that time slot with no loss of entertainment. You will never miss out on something or someplace you wish to visit or activity of a lifetime.

A World Reimagined

The physical world of major cities must change. Of this, there is no doubt because technology has opened vast fresh opportunities to work collaboratively from afar.

Zoom opened a window of possibilities. Now that platform provides access with less travel, less need to rent or buy space for any business, even the healthcare business, and at lower costs all around.

The competition is already breathing down Zoom’s neck and forging alternative ways to change the business model of corporations. Google, no slouch in the arena of computer platforms, has upgraded its Google Meet program sitting right inside its mail program. Why would anyone want to leave their home or family when they can do most business from their home office, backyard, or kitchen?

Even the fashion industry has seen how this will affect them. The media ran with it and other forms of “Facetime-like” video connections during periods of travel restrictions. Reporters in jacket and ties can wear jeans or shorts with aplomb.

Plus, no need for a computer. Video conferencing requires only a cell phone connection. If the Sony Handycam changed the news business during wartime, the cell phone has, similarly, upped technology in the entire spectrum of daily life.

Facebook was late out of the gate, but they now offer video meetings for up to 50 people with their Facebook Messenger. Verizon has acquired BlueJeans for business “chats.” Cisco, emphasizing the security of conferencing, has Webex.

Unafraid to beat its chest, Zoom showed that they now host up to 300 million daily participants. Not all of it is business we might assume since other non-business groups will avail themselves of this technology.

The Real Estate Market

With teleconferencing as a staple of worldwide business, the real estate market is prime for innovation. The pandemic emphasized new special requirements to restrict virus dispersion, and Zoom and its competitors have pierced commercial real estate’s former plans.

Office towers packed tightly together in cramped city quarters appear passe in reformulation by architects, social psychologists, and city zoning commissions. Now, greenspace need not be the purview of an office penthouse or rooftop. Trees and grass may once again be seen on city streets devoid of asphalt. Virtual landscapes could also be created according to a person’s whim.

Transportation hubs, too, and inner-city buses and transit can no longer be the packed-like-a-sardine experience of yesteryear. Will bicycles with Waze gadgets become the vehicle of city life?

Forget skyscrapers, what about entertainment venues? Social distancing now requires new design concepts for Disney parks around the world as it does for restaurants and theatres.

Will the drive-in movie with new technologic gadgets come back to combat lagging movie ticket sales? Retail spaces like malls were dying already in 2017 before the pandemic. How will they be re-imagined?

Enter the World of MR

Within this unimaginable unknown world we face, AI may prove a saving grace. The newfound sense of freedom, however, may also prove to be an invisible anchor.

A famous social psychologist, Erich Fromm, in the 1940s, wrote “Escape From Freedom” in which he detailed the pressures and unpleasantness of “freedom.” Choice, according to Fromm, brings stress as we attempt to work our way through to decisions. Are fewer options easier for us to handle than innumerable ones? Could be.

As Fromm wrote in his classic book, “Our aim … (is to) show that the structure of modern society affects man in two ways simultaneously: he becomes more independent, self-reliant, and critical, and he becomes more isolated, alone, and afraid.”

What do we give up for this new freedom? Can our mental health handle this isolation, or do we need the physical presence of others? Studies with school children have shown that physicality is essential for learning and the development of personality.

Interestingly, and somewhat in a forward-thinking mode, Fromm stated that “Most psychiatrists take the structure of their own society so much for granted that to them the person who is not well adapted assumes the stigma of being less valuable.”

To which “society” was he referring, and who will decide this “less valuable” in our new normal? Will these “less valuable” people be given the same freedoms as the more valuable ones? Does that mean they will be limited in their access to jobs, healthcare, and human rights? Will AI and MR play a role?

Freedom appears to be a fluid notion and based on creating norms. The new rules may not be so fluid and may, in a search for stability, be rigid and stratified as never before. MR could be used in nefarious ways to calm the displeasure of the less valuable. In this, will it be a type of mental prison?

And we can redesign our inner world with algorithms. Planning has begun on a novel concept of contact lens where programs will be displayed at will, your’s or someone else’s.

How far are we away from the control of behavior, if not bodily but mentally, as shown in “Demolition Man?” Extreme in its depiction of how advanced technology can “imprison” violators, the programs could also be used to enhance someone’s vision of their lives. Algorithms become life without the person’s permission. I can almost see a relationship to “The Stepford Wives” but without the “fembots.”

Graduation speeches always stress how the class leaving will determine the future, but we have to wonder how in this new pond, they will sink or swim.

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Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

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DR PATRICIA FARRELL

Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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