Looking Back on a Possible Future
At the beginning of the COVID pandemic — March 26, 2020 to be exact — I was sent an article called Die Welt nach Corona, The World After Corona, by German futurist, Matthias Horx. In it, he presents predictions for the following six months, a picture of the world from March to September, 2020. To accomplish this, Horx stands past and future on their heads in an exercise he calls “RE-gnosis.” This is the opposite of “PRO-gnosis.” This means that, instead of looking forward into the future and making a prognosis, we take the perspective of looking back from the future. This point of view takes a moment to get used to. In Horx’s article, we imagine that it is September, 2020, and we are looking back on the first months of the pandemic.
So here we are, a year later, in September, 2021, looking back at a possible future. Let’s see how Horx’s predictions have fared. What follows, with a few connective comments, is my translation of several snippets from his article.
Horx starts with two enduring images that flashed around the world just after the virus broke out. One image is that of Italians playing music on their balconies. The second is a picture from outer space showing the relatively clean air over formerly polluted industrial areas in Italy and China. These set the stage for his commentary:
[Matthias Horx] I’m often asked: When do we go back to normal after the coronavirus? My answer: never. There are historic moments when the future changes its direction. We call these moments a bifurcation, a depth-crisis, and this is what is happening now.
Looking back [on the Spring of 2020], we’re amazed at how much humor and conviviality we experienced during the Corona crisis.
We’re amazed at how much the economy was able to shrink without the “collapse” that was feared with every tiny raise in taxes and every move made by the Fed. To be sure, there was a “black April” and a deep recession in which many companies either went bankrupt, had to downsize drastically, or mutated into a new undertaking. But it never came to a total breakdown. It was as if the economy was a living, breathing being, able to take a nap, sleep, and even dream.