Bernard Salt AM is a serious demographer. A business advisor, speaker and columnist with The Australian, he has the chops and research to make a very informed guess as to how our brave new post-corona world will look.
Yet halfway into our Perspectives podcast, launched on May 13, Bernard veers off from talking about the need for Australia to start manufacturing medical gear before the next pandemic to talk famous social influencers and how you style your bed.
Turns out that the Melbourne MD of The Demographics Group—who in 2018 was named in the top 25 'LinkedIn Top Voices in Australia and takes credit on his website for "popularising smashed avocados ... globally"—easily goes both macro and micro in the same train of thought.
"We're coming through a transformative time. I would say that two or three months of lockdown in 2020 has as big a social impact on a country as five or six years of war three generations ago," says Bernard of the coronavirus pandemic that saw much of the world in lockdown, in the biggest social behavioural event in the history of civilisation.
"I do think the world we will emerge into will be very different to the world that went into lockdown."
As to how pillows and Instagram's most ubiquitous and overexposed family fit into the equation, Bernard believes society will keep up some of the new habits it formed during lockdown.
It will be more resourceful because of the looming possibility of a future second pandemic and will find more worthy heroes.
"Hopefully we will take the good bits, the good skills and learnings from lockdown and create a more productive, more efficient society going forward," says Bernard, who has discovered an appreciation for working from home, online shopping and locally made products, most notably Bosisto's eco-friendly soap.
He forecasts a world where designer garden beds will be turned over for vegie patches, one car families will turn their empty garage space into home gyms, things will be repaired rather than replaced.
"I think we've shifted our values to the extent we're becoming less 'me' focused and more about 'us'," says Bernard, saying being home constantly has switched the importance we place on things
"If you've been working from home, you don't have to dress up, and you don't need ... the pillows on the bed, five or six pillows. I call it the 'pillowfication' effect. The idea is when you have visitors they walk down the central hallway and they glimpse into the bedroom and judge you by how perfectly the bed is made.
"But if you don't have visitors you don't need to do that, and you realise, 'You know what, it didn't really matter.' You don't have to live a perfect life, that's what we're learning."
We're also learning that "attention seeking" celebrities have been surpassed in our standing by real life heroes who say their own lines and don't expect huge paydays: "The healthcare frontline and the supermarket workers. We have passed peak Kardashian."
But in building our brave new post-corona world, he believes that Australia has "a problem with inertia" and needs to future proof itself against a second pandemic by building a proper supply chain network (think manufacturing ventilators and PPE equipment.)
"We need to start thinking about a concept I call supply chain sovereignty where we control the bits and pieces that go into critical infrastructure. It's suddenly occurred to us we should be managing that somewhere on the Australian continent."
As with 2007's Global Financial Crisis, Australia will bounce back from coronavirus, Bernard believes: "In my view you would think where else on the planet would you rather be in a time of global pandemic, and can think of no better place. Even beyond that, I think Australia in the 2020s will prosper."
In person, I found the demographer more optimistic than I had expected. I'm more pessimistic, and while I agree Australia can thrive again with strategic decisions that take us out of reaction and into creation.
I want a narrative on buying Australian and supporting Australian, and around making it economically viable for Australians to do that. My vision is for our brave new post-corona world to have a strong supply chain and sovereignty attitude, and a communal feeling of gratitude.
I want help given to other countries who don't have our social welfare or healthcare systems, and our sanitation network. I want teenagers who have been living in their screens for months—a known red flag for teen suicides and mental health issues—to have their brains rewired to embrace a world without social media's edited fake reality.
As Bernard told me, "it all starts with a conversation and education." Agreed.