Keller Easterling on what coronavirus tells us about this moment

Keller Easterling on what coronavirus tells us about this moment
Image: Courtesy Keller Easterling
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It took a global pandemic and stay-at-home orders for 1.5 billion people worldwide, but something is finally occurring to us: The future we thought we expected may not be the one we get.

We know that things will change; how they’ll change is a mystery. To envision a future altered by coronavirus, Quartz asked dozens of experts for their best predictions on how the world will be different in five years.

Below is an answer from Keller Easterling, an architect, writer, and the director of the Master of Environmental Design program at Yale University. She has written three books; her forthcoming book, Medium Design, will be published this year. 

Covid-19 is an X-ray of whiteness, inequality, and ineffectual government as well as a rehearsal for climate catastrophe. It models a way out of the modern mind that maintains the myth of solutions, newness, freedom, and universals. That mind gives authority to new digital technologies, econometrics, law, and other technical languages that attempt to segregate and solve a complex of problems. That mind looks to establish what would be the most dangerous outcome of this moment—a “new normal.”

Without respect for nationalities, legal jurisdictions, or homo economicus, Covid-19 confounds these thin technological or lexical constructs. It slices across all of the political, legal, and disciplinary boundaries, leaving a vivisection of interdependent factors. Data about infection rates or atmospheric temperatures means very little when not considered in terms of race, governance, health care, and underlying health factors. There are no equations of certainty.

But Covid-19 graphically models not only the productive entanglement between problems; it models nothing less than alternative approaches to forms for re-tuning and redesigning that entanglement. Interplay is itself the form. A protocol of interplay is different from a solution. It is different from designing a single object or building. It is a verb rather than a noun. It mixes different species of information from the scale of microns to the scale of territories. It mixes heavy physical spatial information with digital, quantitative, econometric expressions. It mixes epidemiological, ethnographic, demographic, economic, social, and cultural evidence.

For Covid-19, spatial, medical, and behavior evidence combined in a remarkably simple, practical and reliable protocol for distancing, hand-washing, and face covering. But we are designing protocols that deal with, among many other things, automation, migration, police defunding, cooperative land tenure, coastal retreat, reforestation, and compounding reparations. Each resists solutions or elementary particles. And because these forms are lumpy and time released, they also resist still imagery. Interplay imagery is more like that of weather maps, games, or time-lapse.

And space is the great mixing chamber for these protocols of interplay that look for no normal.

To read more New Normal answers, click here.