Physical Space is Obsolete, and Good Riddance
There have always been drawbacks with having physical associations to our societal roles. Think of the amount of time you spend on your commute over the course of a year. A 30 minute drive each way adds up to eleven days of your life per year, just sitting in traffic.
The disassociation of our social roles and the physical world is an uncomfortable, yet incredibly important transition that is currently taking place in this phase of humankind’s evolution.
While, as with any changes, many people will resist it, and insist on continuing the old way. But those of us who adapt early and accept the change will have an easier time over the next few years — as this phenomenon will become universal and permeate all aspects of life.
It’s already begun.
Take dating, for example. Since the dawn of Tinder, online dating has become almost a necessity in modern urban life. People see meeting people face to face as inefficient. Survival of the fittest — and the fittest method in this case is swiping over making awkward conversation in line at the grocery store.
Similarly, remote work has been gaining ground for years, with some pretty popular advocates making their views known, well before these Zoom days. Meanwhile, online education is practically a staple by now, starting with Khan Academy in the 2000s, to MOOC platforms now, and even free education channels on YouTube on topics from gardening, to quantum physics.
But when we no longer have to go to the office, to our campuses, to our schools or our libraries, where left is there to go? What will the future of physical space look like? Will we be interacting exclusively within boxes on screens for perpetuity?
The answer is, yes — but only for certain activities.
The world has realized that remote work and education are not only feasible, but also cost effective. At the end of the day, our short term inconvenience matters little in the face of the all-powerful market. And what the market is telling us is that companies will leverage people’s newfound technological dexterity —learned out of necessity — as an opportunity to cut costs. And since the market is the unspoken ruler of the land, we will do what it tells us to do. Ultimately, we’ll be better off, because this short-term inconvenience could in fact lead to long-term productivity, which translates to a thriving economy. Those corporate, political, and educational institutions which prop up the social infrastructure of our nation will be permanently transformed, and they’ll be better —or at the very least, less wasteful — for it.
So what is the role of the physical world now that all these things take place digitally?
The answer is: recreation.
There are certain things we as humans indisputably need, and those are the things which involve human interaction and creative expression. That means, we will still go out to movies, art galleries, concerts. We’ll go to bars, pubs, and clubs on weekends. We’ll meet for coffee in the afternoons to chat. We’ll eat out at nice restaurants, and we’ll take vacations once or twice a year, to enjoy nature, history, or culture. We won’t have to leave the house, but we’ll do so when we want to.
And it’s no coincidence that the only things that we will be compelled to go out for will be those things which are most important to us as humans.
Simply put, now that we have an option, we’ll choose not to make that 30 minute commute. Mass opting out means that the corporate structure will have no choice but to adapt (if not just for the cost-savings), and we’ll have more time to do the things that truly matter to us.
But we will not choose to opt out of fun and recreation. These are the things we will be willing to put in any amount of effort to do, because the fulfillment one receives through social contact is not something that can be emulated virtually.
In the end, the universe always balances itself out. Our commutes will be eliminated, but our coffee dates will not. We will be able to use our time more efficiently in the ways that we prioritize, and those ways will reveal themselves to be those which bring us happiness and fulfillment.
Think of all the emissions that will be reduced, all the road rage incidents that won’t have the chance to flare up, the time, energy and effort that we will be able to spare and invest back into ourselves, to become healthier and happier humans.
We should brace ourselves for an uncomfortable transition, but the end result may just be worthwhile.