Hidden Dependencies

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As we slog through the pandemic in America, as I see things change, it makes me realize the hidden dependencies in the economy.

Let’s talk commutes.

Sure, we supposedly hate commutes. An hour this way, an hour that, catching trains, and so on isn’t fun. Sure we try to maximize our time while we read books or see friends after work, but it’s not enjoyable.

But as we work from home, we’re changing the economy. We also know that won’t be temporary for many of us as the benefits outweigh the costs, meaning these changes are permanent.

But what could go wrong? This is good right, where we can avoid using cars and timeshift, and so on? Sure it, is, but it’s going to have quite the impact.

I first became aware of how I didn’t see the impact of more work from home when someone joked about audiobooks. They wondered if there were less sales of them as people weren’t commuting as much. Sure it was funny . . . until you thought about it.

Then I had to wonder.

Next, I saw people in the Bay Area being worried about work from home becoming more permanent. Why, I wondered, would they worry about that? Wasn’t this better?

Then you realize how much of the economy relies on us to be going into work elsewhere than our homes. The people renting office space. The restaurants near our offices. All the services that are involved from construction to janitorial services.

How much of our economy depends on a commute?

Soon I was thinking about other things affected by commutes. Audo services and public transport. Taxis and office supply companies. So many businesses get money if not outright depend on commuters.

We’ve temporarily rearranged a surprising large chunk of the economy, which would be radical even without the Pandemic. But it happened, and it’s going to be for awhile, and for some of us it’s permanent. If we don’t want it to be more devastating than it is, we need to seriously assess business, cities, commutes, and more – as a country and as cities and as communities.

This was a humbling realization and one that I am still processing. This change, this shift, was right under my nose and I missed it. For all of us trying to figure careers and economics and the like it’s important to remember the filters we have in place.

What else are we missing?

Steven Savage