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The Radical Reinvention of Work

June 15, 2020

Welcome to 2030: Come Cocoon with Me


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June 15, 2020      |      7 Min Read

“What’s next?”: That’s the question everyone is asking, from the CEOs my team consults with to my friends weathering the Covid-19 lockdown. “How will we live, what will it be like?”

In 1981, I named and framed   Cocooning, defined as “The need to protect oneself from the harsh, unpredictable realities of the outside world.” It described how we looked for psychological shelter, and it continues to. But what began as something cozy has become self-preservation in this age of pandemics.

Today’s Corona Cocooning will forever rewrite how we seek shelter, literally and emotionally. The virus that has roved around the globe hasn’t been a pause. It’s been an accelerator, speeding us into our virtual future.

Sheltering in Space

Cocooning Now: People are finding their homes must adapt to be all things: office, gym, restaurant, art studio. It’s our ground zero for screens, apps, streaming – our new world. Videogames are being accessed 75% more often than pre-Covid. Virtual concerts rule. Home delivery has never been hotter, with Amazon hiring 100,000 more workers a month to keep up with our new “bring it to my door” demand. People are indulging their DIY dreams, from making sourdough bread to doing a handstand with Jake Gyllenhaal’s help. Much as we may crave outside life, we’re proud of all we can do and achieve indoors and are letting some of our external aspirations fall by the wayside. We’re content to play VR versions of Animal Crossing and Fortnite with avatars popping up all around us.

Cocooning Next: We’ll only leave one Cocoon for another. Restaurants, concert halls, movie theatres, sports arenas – they all must change. Any outing must guarantee a pathogen-less place. In Amsterdam, one restaurant owner is flirting with individual greenhouse-style booths where diners can safely swig cocktails. Medical-grade cleaning will be a must, as will sensors will scan for and track virus vectors. Immunity passports will unlock admission to larger social gatherings – provided that antibodies prove to confer immunity. As of this writing, that remains to be seen.

The reasons to go outside will dwindle. Even dating moves virtual with the advent of haptic-driven tools, like Emerge, that will allow you to “reach out and touch” someone half a world away. Tele-dildonics (remote-controlled sex toys) allow for foreplay and more while in separate spaces. AI-powered sex bots will rise too, sitting quietly in a corner when not in use, listening to you, learning your quirks, and will then get more and more plugged into your everyday lusty needs with every encounter.

This indoor life will be our new normal. And our Cocoons won’t be stationary. They will be driverless pods – a micro-apartment or mini-hotel suite on wheels – that whisk us around for a change of scenery, to allow our wanderlust to run loose.

The opportunity: The growth industries will be medical-grade cleaning. The IoT and Smart Home technology will be huge – on the medical front, yes, but also security. How can we feel safe when there are shortages and riots outside our doors with enforced curfews? Home delivery to satisfy every micro-need. Just as today, we’re offered home delivery of just-picked peaches and in-home exercise equipment to our prescription drugs, tomorrow will be an ever bigger booming market. We’ll satisfy our every whim, from sampling the cocktail Hemingway drank in Venice decades ago to signing up for streamed-in-home brainpower-boosting classes.

Warping How We Work

Cocooning Now: We’re discovering that we can work virtually. Why commute into an office or factory and bathe (fab) in others’ bacteria and pathogens? Zoom has made our couch the equivalent of the cube. Employers can save on rent, and those who toil at home put in more hours, are happier and stick with their jobs longer. (And who can ace a virtual job interview anyway?) On-the-job human interaction is vanishing and fast. Factories have been roboticizing for years: BMW and  IBM are integrating or completely swapping in bot workers. Retailers from Target to Lowe’s have robot staffers to assist customers.  As jobs are robo-replaced, we humans will oversee the workflow from behind the scenes.

Cocooning Next: Here comes hologram life. From inside your pod-house, you will have a workplace avatar. It can pop up anywhere and everywhere. It can attend a summit in Russia and speak the language fluidly. It can collaborate with others across the continent on a pharma formula or an NGO formation. AI will learn your thought patterns and speech cadences and allow you to contribute in multiple places in real time.

The opportunity: Telepresence, holography, AI, and future technology that connect us and allow teamwork globally will boom. Digital security will accelerate as well to prevent avatar hacking; consultants will optimize the image and abilities of our second selves, too.

Commerce gets ultra-creative

Cocooning Now: Post-pandemic, anyone who wasn’t conversant in the language of home delivery, from FreshDirect to Instacart, will be. (One pseudo silver lining: Those who work in fields that require showing up in real life, whether a delivery person or a public speaker, will get combat pay.) For those who want to get outside briefly, supermarkets – like  the sleek Dubai prototype store where you drive up and nab items from a huge rotating display—will be the answer. A galaxy of guaranteed subscription options – food, water, medicines will give consumers peace of mind during recurring supply-chain disruptions and product shortages.

Cocooning Next: Driverless pods, like the Moby Mart which debuted in Shanghai, will bring shopping to you – your own frictionless, human-free space to feel, touch, try and buy goods. Direct-to-consumer brands will thrive as bricks and mortar comes tumbling down. The only thing that will get us to leave our Cocoon for a retailer is an amazing, perfectly safe experience that can’t be recreated at home. You’ll go to a Nike store if Serena Williams, or at least her avatar, will be there to volley with you in person. Otherwise, your avatar will happily play her in a VR app.

The opportunity: Those retailers who can intuit niche needs and deliver on them, the future is bright. For retailers who can mesh material goods with ultra-memorable experiences (in VR or IRL), it’s even brighter.

Learning gets re-educated

Cocooning Now: In this moment of hardcore Corona Cocooning, we’re seeing that 1 billion students globally have had their studies disrupted by the pandemic. And the return to schoolrooms and dorms feels like a dream from another era. Distance learning is the new black, causing parents untold stress (time for a new class of online tutors to emerge). Soon, online learning will be tailored to the individual’s learning style – visual vs. auditory. Teachers will need new ways to engage their distant and distractible students, with acting skills being the new resume requirement. Their competition is the sophisticated visuals of advanced gaming platforms, so special effects will come to the educational screen.

Cocooning Next: Soon enough, why bother being tethered to a screen inside your home? Implantable brain chips – what’s called neural lace or, by Elon Musk’s company, Neuralink – will seamlessly connect us to the Internet. (And perhaps, in a dystopian future, will allow Big Brother to literally read our minds.) Getting an education in the traditional sense: Over. Instead, learning will be downloadable in seconds – from speaking Mandarin to grasping metaphysics. It will be a revolution, a renaissance for a new era.

The opportunity:  Wiring the human brain to the Internet and aiding the evolution to our Cyborg Selves will be job number one. After that, the focus will be on redefining education. With an array of academia available for download, what – if anything – do we need to be taught and how will that be done? Is downloading information and a skill really learning? How do we elevate our humanity? Compassion courses with real-world engagement just might be a major priority.

Wellness revisited

Cocooning Now: Our Cocoons are our new wellness pods, with telehealth rising and in-home meditation, fitness and heath services (annual check-ups via Zoom, for instance) soaring. Soon enough, our homes will scan the air (look at the Awair device) and purify it. Tiny embedded cameras and sensors will monitor our blood pressure, viral load, and mood indicators and then modulate the temperature, humidity, scents, and lighting to optimize our wellness and the serotonin levels in our brains.

Cocooning Next: The new robo house-calls arrive. Once inside our Cocoons, medical care will come to us. Anti-viral cleaning squads and medical bots will venture into our homes and provide disinfecting, scanning and testing that our embedded sensor systems can’t. Minor medical procedures—including biopsies and Botox—will be precision-performed in-home, and AI-fueled medibots will scan our nutrition and fitness programs and weigh in with tweaks. These partners in wellness will infuse our daily menu with DNA-synced nutrients to keep us as healthy as possible, as long as possible.

The opportunity: Wiring our pods for wellness care and creating an army of adept and fault-free robotic medical workers is how our Tomorrow takes shape. Also, recognizing the rising imperative of cognitive and mental health – hot spots for innovation.

Take a look at Tomorrow

If you hadn’t already noticed, this pandemic is quickening our evolution: It’s compressing the time frame for the robotization of humans. Our lives will be screen-and AI-dependent (that is, until the screens become embedded in our bodies). Our needs anticipated and sated without any hunting and gathering required. Our sense of agency –of control over our lives and our destiny – will be questionable.

But it’s the future we’ve been marching towards for decades, perhaps centuries now. It’s a life only a robot could love. And, in the years ahead, a life only a robot will live – albeit with a human brain encased in its virus-immune, immortal body.

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“What’s next?”: That’s the question everyone is asking, from the CEOs my team consults with to my friends weathering the Covid-19 lockdown. “How will we...