As I finished meandering through The Hartford Courant (Sunday, April 26, 2020), I had one lasting impression: It seems we are at one of those special points in world history, a time of dramatic change, a pivot point. In the future, people will talk of the new era like we talk about the emergence of Greek civilization, the Renaissance and the industrial revolution.

Of course, we’ve been talking about it for a decade or two. We’ve been variously calling it the digital revolution, the post-industrial revolution, the internet revolution. Eventually, some name will stick.

Often, a critical event drives social change forward. For the industrial revolution, the critical event may have been the invention of the steam engine. For the Renaissance, some have argued it was the bubonic plague.

For the digital revolution, it’s COVID-19. The headlines in Sunday’s Courant signal the coming and continuing changes: “Experts Warn of Struggles Ahead,” “Students in Limbo,” “Time to Set a New Course in the General Assembly,” “State Has a Chance to Reassess Proper Street Usage,” “Will We Escape as a Better Nation?,” “Pandemic Will Change Our Lives in Many Ways.”

Developments that we’ve casually observed for 20 years, now driven by the pandemic, are emerging to change our lives. People talked fancifully a decade ago about being able to sit in a canoe on a pond with a cellphone and laptop, conducting business. It was possible then, but now work-at-home has become a practical reality for millions. We are learning that internet and Wi-Fi capacity is cheaper than office space.

The on-line college movement was well under way before the pandemic, but students all over the country now have left the campus and are finishing this semester at home. There’s a good chance that their college education will continue on-line in the fall. Small, less well-endowed colleges have been struggling for years, and with the loss of room-and-board revenue and the market-driven reductions in tuition, many are now likely to be driven out of business.

In a letter to readers, Andrew Julian, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Courant, announced that publication of the May and June issues of Hartford Magazine has been suspended. What do you think the chances are that advertisers will be standing in line to buy space in Hartford Magazine when it proposes to return in August or September or 2021? Whether Hartford Magazine returns or not, it’s obvious that many similar magazines, those publications that have been struggling in the face of internet competition, will not be coming back.

The Courant itself, and similar newspapers around the country, also are threatened. As revenues shrink, so too does The Courant. How long will it be before the next round of senior contributors euphemistically “decides to pursue other opportunities”?

For years we’ve been watching with dismay as brick-and-mortar stores have shrunk and closed in the face of a relentless assault, first by the big boxes and then by the on-line shopping services. Mom-and-pop farms began disappearing a century ago and now are little more than a nostalgic memory; mom-and-pop restaurants have been decimated by modern national and regional chain restaurants. The pandemic is accelerating the change.

There are two fundamental points about living in an era of great change:

Life doesn’t change. The end of an era disrupts the lives of many people, and those disruptions often are tragic on a personal level. Loss of loved ones, loss of livelihoods, loss of homes are being visited on some people. The pain isn’t shared equally; we must do what we can to help them, but life will never be the same for many, many people.

The tragedy notwithstanding, the great joys and the great mysteries of life go on unabated. We live and die, we laugh and cry, we love as human beings always have, and that will not change. From “You’ve Given Me the Best Life I Could Have Ever Asked For,” page A1 of The Courant, to “Unique Love Story Knows No Borders,” page A10, the joys and sorrows and mystery of life go on. Cherish it. Share it. Most of all, live it.

(Dick Butkus once said something like, “If I was smart, I’d be a doctor, but I ain’t so I’m a football player.” Well, if I was smart, I could write profound philosophy, but I ain’t, so you’ll hear no more from me about the meaning of life. All I know is that life is a gift.)

Change is good. The history of civilization is that change is good. Recognize it. Believe it. Own it. Change is good. Not good for everyone, to be sure, but for most people.

We may be losing 20th century retail, we may be losing nine-to-five office life, we may be losing print media, and those changes will have profound impact on many of us. The move into a new era always involves the disappearance of some institutions. However, the seeming void will be filled with new ways of doing things and new institutions. We will recall nostalgically things that have been lost, just as people of earlier eras recalled the disappearance of the village smithy or life on the frontier, but we will prefer the new way.

Would you prefer life in Rome in the time of Augustus or life in the Italian hills 1000 years earlier? Would you prefer life in Rome in 1750 or life in the time of Augustus? Would you prefer life in Rome in 2000 or life in 1750? Give me the more modern era, every time.

Rome’s an easy comparison, but life is better in modern times almost everywhere. There’s less infant mortality, less war, less murder, less starvation. People live longer, work less hard, have greater opportunity.

Why does life improve from era to era? In the same way that a forest fire makes way for new growth, the pandemic is part of the process that will make way for new and generally better institutions and ways of life. Why are they better? Because human beings are smart, creative, and interactive. For example, does anyone doubt that in the future our health care institutions (hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, pharmaceutical companies and regulators) will be better prepared to respond to the next viral pandemic? Many modern institutions already have in place incident command systems for dealing with emergencies, and those systems will be improved substantially as we examine the lessons learned during this pandemic. People aren’t stupid; as civilization moves on, we may repeat some of the mistakes of the past, but we don’t repeat all of them.

Office buildings may be losing occupants, but the world isn’t losing the commerce that is driven by the people who used to occupy them. College campuses may be put out to pasture, literally, but education won’t die. Mom-and-pop retail may become a quaint historic artifact, but so long as people are free to keep the rewards of their labor, entrepreneurs will continue to create and build. And as those changes happen, new growth will fill in, and human beings will benefit.

In the midst of the change, many people tend to focus on what’s being lost. We certainly shouldn’t ignore the pain and anguish being visited on so many of us, but it’s important that we recognize that this is a time not only of suffering – it is a time of great opportunity. This is a time not only to mourn what’s lost and to rebuild – it is a time to build anew. The world will be reshaped by the digital revolution after the pandemic, and it’s ours to reshape.

Who knows? We may even find a way to fix government in central Connecticut.

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