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COVID-19 in the era of overconsumption

An article by Eirini Katti, Sociologist, Project Manager AFEA SA

COVID-19 in the era of overconsumption: What has changed and what the next day can bring. When the "necessary" became "redundant"

It was on December 2019, when a vivid discussion started to develop between a bunch of friends during a joyful dinner, about “a virus” that appeared in Asia and which, at that point, prevented us from some near-future business or private activities. The discussion continued for a while, on a table full of food, wine and ignorance.  Besides, everything was still normal: Friends socializing, chatting and making jokes, sitting next to each other.

Eventually, the situation started to change around the world and the “invisible” danger was approaching. Ignorance gradually became fear, distress, even anger as time went by. As soon as the outburst was “official” and international, the “invisible” enemy had a name: COVID-19. After a couple of months, the whole world had to face a new and unprecedented reality: a “catholic” lockdown, social distancing, isolation, uncertainty, stress. Even common practices of the daily life had to be adjusted to this new world and collectivity turned into individuality - or even individualism - in certain cases. 

Life and habits changed rapidly, without almost any available time for adjustments and theoretically, no choices. Adjustment to the “new normal” in all aspects of life was the only way and that’s what we all did at the end: new rules at home, at work, within human relations and a brand-new approach of our own self.

Only when we stepped away from the furious paces of everyday life, we realized that what was considered necessary before, was now maybe even redundant. At first though, the opposite seemed to happen: online shopping percentages increased, based on our need to attach to the outer world and feel part of an activity, even via our materialistic instinct and fight against the fear of consumer staples’ shortage - although the latter proved to be unreal or just initially provoked by our own practices.

In general, the situation of the pandemic led us to realize that our needs started to change day by day. We started to miss family, friends and social life in general and having a choice didn’t seem to be an option. At the end though, we all had a great chance for review and reconsideration.

Priorities changed, people turned to a “necessity phase” and the human presence gave its place to nature; noticeable reduction in Co2 emissions, return of wild life and nature blooming stood up to show us that the world continues, even without us. The ecological imprint was obvious and undoubtable and the sustainability concept started to be redefined.

All of the above, created a social and human experience. Personally, I tend to consider it as legacy for the future.

Apparently, the spectrum of activities which have - and are still being modified - is broad. Nevertheless, regarding business and as it is strongly related to every aspect of life, either personal or social, radical changes for renewal needed to be done.  In our industry, the Meetings Industry, seemed that a whole new world was developing in front of our eyes and we had to become a part of it. The physical meetings and congresses, the B2B and B2C meetings and every other version of such an event had to be temporarily reformed. The first-level reaction was frustration. The immediate, second-level reaction, was adaptation.

When adaptation was on target, the steps that would lead to its achievement started to develop. The substances for the recipe of success were many, but all mandatory: Team spirit, further education, knowledge exchange, optimism, crisis management, hard work and persistence are just a few.

As time goes by and the Meetings Industry evolves on this different direction, there is a boost given to the revitalization of new technologies, new ideas embed to vital operational parts such as marketing planning, new operational tools development, creative networking solutions and extended customer care get new emphasis under the present circumstances. This contemporary approach has undoubtedly affected our business model and market, has even created new job positions in the long term and has modified the classic “job description”.

It is definitely the start of a new era, but “rather than wring our hands in despair and fear, the events industry can use this challenging time to prepare for a future of opportunity and to forge closer relationships with customers, colleagues, members, partners and even competitors”. (Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA))

This new reality is still in process and it seems that its effect is here to stay. Even if COVID-19 disappears one day or stops being an “enemy”, it has surely affected peoples’ mentality and general worldview forever. A boost for political, economic and social systems reorientation at all levels is now possible.

To transfer difficulty into challenge and caring, the “new world” into a brand-new life status and distress into creativity and optimism, is a new, beneficial life scenario. Needless to say, that the severity of the situation should never be underestimated, this new approach though might be a good lesson for the humanity and an element of what the pandemic may bring at the end. Overall, it is definitely a golden opportunity to put aside the individual priorities and contribute to the collective welfare, through conscious and significant behavioral alterations.

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving”, Albert Einstein