Peter Wippermann founded the trend research agency Trendbüro and was professor for communication design at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen until 2015. With the trend office, he examines social developments and their effects and advises companies.
Many people work from their home office, we fly less or no longer at all, we maintain social distance. Which of these changes from the Corona period will continue to accompany us after the crisis?
That can certainly be summed up in one sentence: the public becomes private and the private becomes public. The state sets the rules for how we should behave. In the private sphere, which is now becoming public, new business areas are emerging such as biometric identification, changes at airports, and new access authorizations. Then suddenly we are in the area of personal rights. This has reached a speed that we will continue to feel in the next year.
Does that mean there will be more control from the state?
The lockdown is the most striking thing about it. If you look at what has changed in tourism, for example, you can compare that with the consequences of the wave of terrorism. This has led to the fact that every passenger first has to prove that he is not a criminal. If you apply that to the current situation, passengers first have to prove that they are healthy – whether with rapid tests or with a mandatory vaccination on certain airlines. That has very direct influences on everyone personally. So far, non-contact technologies and biometric face recognition have met with resistance. Now you can see that France and the USA are introducing “biometric boarding” under Corona conditions and are also working on face recognition with masks. In Mallorca, the temperature of travelers is measured at the airport. These are all changes in tourism that will last. That can quickly develop into the areas of large office space and retail. This is a development that will definitely not go away.
Would this development have been possible in this form without the corona pandemic?
Technically, of course, this is nothing new at all, but the social acceptance is new: Control is increasing – and the acceptance of this control under the aspect of health would previously have been unthinkable. Now it is a prerequisite for being able to do certain things.
If the population is vaccinated and Corona is under control again at some point – will we be able to and want to return to the state before the pandemic?
No, that is certainly no longer possible. The changes are socially accepted in the current situation, they are technically feasible and economically sensible. If you look at the economic damage caused by a pandemic, then it makes economic sense to suddenly see the topic of health as an economic factor.
Much is currently restricted or not possible at all – such as traveling and major events. Couldn’t it be that people are particularly longing for it and then everything will quickly return to what it was before the pandemic?
I believe that real experience is becoming more and more valuable and complex. One thing is the longing that people have. The other is the change in society, which is largely accepted as a necessary evil. It is also important that the home has become a real headquarters – for fitness, work, shopping. It won’t go away again.
The world of work has also changed significantly as a result of the pandemic. What changes will accompany us in this area beyond the Corona period?
There will be a hybrid world of work. The office won’t go away, but it will take on a new role. A hybrid working world makes economic sense and is also welcomed by those who can work in the distance working world. It is not new that many people also work on the go, but what is new is that it will now also be given a social framework and a legal basis. In addition, technological developments will mean that many fields of work will also become hybrid working environments through artificial intelligence, faster computers and better transmission standards than 5G. An example: In China, open-cast mining is done from the office. People control excavators and trucks with a joystick. At the moment there is still a separation between those who work on the computer and those who work on site. That will largely go away.
The pandemic has changed something not only for companies, but also for consumers. In your value index, you have found that consumers are increasingly asking companies what they contribute to in social and political issues, and where they really offer added value. Where does it come from?
The pandemic is not the only thing we have to deal with; we also have to deal with climate change. The population wants change. Companies with ideas of a better society or of conflict resolution in the areas of health, climate change or division in society are rated very positively. What we have been discussing under the name digital transformation in recent years is suddenly a cultural transformation. The idea of profit is no longer the only focus.
Why is it that these values are important to people, especially in a crisis?
In Germany, around 50 percent are of the opinion that society should change – and 50 percent are of the opinion that we should simply go back to the time before Corona. The younger ones have started asking their parents questions – on the subject of climate change, on the subject of nutrition. They push society forward and the crisis accelerates it. They look for possible solutions: If a company suggests to them that it is a positive part of the development, they are ready to consume here too. In a crisis you have two options: to be afraid and to withdraw, or to see what you can do in this situation and move forward. And we come from a time when alternative facts, fake news and the like shocked society so that it lost its orientation. The topic of sustainability is a reliable perspective to be able to think and walk straight ahead again.
Another result of your value index was that freedom and transparency gained importance in spring. Where does this change in values come from?
This is a reaction to the fact that our freedom can suddenly no longer be taken for granted. The moment we are socially forced to behave sensibly and not to leave the apartment, thinking about freedom has increased enormously. The interesting thing is that this urge for freedom penetrates from the physical into the virtual world. Living, working and shopping in the digital world is suddenly felt as freedom. The fact that transparency has become more important clearly has to do with the lack of orientation in society and with contradicting information. The disorientation caused by social networks has increased enormously.
What could a world after Corona look like?
I believe that society accepts a strong state much more and seeks relief for fundamental decisions. That was unthinkable for many years. Of course, this cannot be accepted by everyone, but the majority is of the opinion that democracy in the Corona phase has proven itself at least until the summer. There is a positive confirmation of the framework conditions that come from politics. In the areas where freedom goes into virtual space, companies have to follow suit – whether it is about the world of work, shopping or entertainment. Certainly by the end of next year there will be a return of live events that will be much more precious than in the past. Flying used to be very exclusive and expensive and has been sold off over the decades. This can be seen in many areas and will stop now. You will enjoy real entertainment in the psychic world, but there will be an upgrade.
You said that there is a desire for a strong state – at the same time freedom is very important. How does that fit together?
If health is a knockout criterion for society, the economy and each individual, then we are looking for clear rules in this area that only the state can provide. Freedom is very easy to realize in the virtual world. Therefore, the acceptance of virtual worlds is changing. We are still at the very beginning. Virtual freedom is the balance to the strength of the rules that we welcome in the physical world.
What positive things have developed as a result of the pandemic that we may not want to do without in retrospect?
We can shop extremely conveniently with deliveries within an hour, which used to be unthinkable. We will be more focused on our own rooms or the rooms that we share with others. We will be more time efficient. On the one hand, we have a phase of complete deceleration, cannot travel and are more in the apartment. On the other hand, we have turbo acceleration of certain processes. But there is a division in society: those who are able to use the digital are the absolute winners. But there are also parts of society that simply refuse to take the digital world seriously. If you look at the schools, you can see that no sensible digital offers were made, no curricula for distance and self-learning were developed, few computers were bought during the pandemic. This is about future employees. So it’s astonishing that a country allows something like that.