The BBC visualizes a brave new office world

The BBC envisioned what homes and offices will be like five years from now, and emerged with answers that are imaginative and intriguing. Although the BBC’s premise is that we will forever live in fear of coming plagues, it still sees a surprisingly conservative future.

The BBC frames this exercise in terms of the Wuhan virus: “This is what coronavirus will do to our offices and homes”:

One day, the virus will subside. It could be eradicated. But even then, life will not simply return to the way it was before Covid-19. Spurred on by the coronavirus crisis, architects have been rethinking the buildings we inhabit.

The piece follows Laila, a hypothetical corporate employee. In 2025, Laila works four days from home. In other words, she telecommutes, something many people have wanted to do ever since home computers came along. Telecommuting works exceptionally well for mothers who don’t have to hire someone else to raise their children. In terms of parenting, telecommuting is fundamentally conservative.

Laila’s employer no longer rents space in a massive office tower. Companies now have their own smaller buildings. This is already what’s happening in 2020 New York: The massive office towers are standing empty. Employees like to telecommute, and having employees work from home means employers save money on rent. The future that the BBC talks about -- employers having smaller offices solely for things that need to be resolved face-to-face -- is rapidly becoming New York’s present.

The article does not address what happens to all those emptied skyscrapers, although it acknowledges that, more than 100 years ago, people’s concerns about safety in cities also emptied buildings. Perhaps controlled building demolition will be the hot job of the future:

Once at this reimagined office building, Laila’s temperature is scanned automatically. Laila passes the test, but in the real world, hundreds of thousands of menopausal women experiencing ill-timed hot flashes will automatically be sent home.

After surviving the thermometer gauntlet, Laila passes through a facial recognition scanner (apparently masks aren’t necessary for this germ-phobic future), and steps onto a voice-activated elevator. We hope she has a better experience than these guys did:

And so it goes, with Laila going to a glass screened pod so that she can see her co-workers but can’t get near their germs. When the employees are in the same room for a meeting, they have to sit far apart from each other.

The BBC has some good ideas. For example, it predicts that air conditioning systems will have UV lights in them that kill pathogens. That UV light can kill pathogens will be a big surprise to all the reporters who ridiculed President Trump’s suggestion that UV light could be manipulated, even into the body, to help control the Wuhan virus.

Office surfaces in this hypothetical will be made from antibacterial substances. This addresses the reality that we catch most of our colds and cases of flu because we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our faces. In the past, I was one of the few who used disinfecting wipes on shopping carts, because I know where those baby and toddler hands have been. Now everyone is making that smart choice.

What’s most interesting about the article is that the BBC envisions people moving to the suburbs:

It’s 16:00 and time to go home. Laila moved to the suburbs with a friend after the lockdown in 2020. It's a longer commute, but she doesn't mind as it's only once a week.

A bigger home meant more space. When the lockdown came she thought working from home would only last a few weeks, and that she'd manage with a laptop on the kitchen table.

But when weeks turned into months, and months turned into years, she knew she would need a home office and her old flat in town was nowhere near big enough.

College-educated, left-leaning soccer moms notwithstanding, suburbs are inherently conservative. Cities embrace climate change because people don’t need cars, and they’re so divorced from nature that they don’t understand how resilient it is. In the suburbs, people need cars and are going to be hostile to a future entirely without fossil fuels. They also battle nature every weekend and understand that humans aren’t as all-powerful as leftists think they are.

Suburbs are also conducive to child-rearing, which encourages people to have families. Parents care about the future in a less selfish way than childless young people who are still focused entirely on their immediate needs. In this regard, parents have a long view that youthful singletons lack.

Overall, the BBC’s exercise was interesting. It’s less about a germophobic future than it is about a future in which people can finally embrace the freedom that comes with telecommuting. In doing so, they’ll escape the violent, dystopian nightmare of leftist cities.

Image: demolition #2 – queen elizabeth flats by chirgy; creative commons, some rights reserved.

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