From our Swindon Correspondent:
From the Washington Examiner
Precautions are being taken in a variety of ways, including the cancellation of heavily attended events. This includes the annual technology, film, and music conference South by Southwest, which brings millions of dollars and thousands of people into the city of Austin, Texas. It was scheduled from March 13 to 22, but the organizers said Austin canceled the dates, and SXSW would “faithfully follow the City’s directions.”
At least nine technology events have been called off because of the coronavirus, which Recode reports has an economic cost surpassing $1 billion.
The American Enterprise Institute’s World Forum, which is an annual meeting of business leaders, government officials, and conservative intellectuals in Sea Island, Georgia, has also been canceled.
Businesses are starting to encourage employees not to come into work, including major tech companies such as Apple, Alphabet Inc., and Microsoft Corp. Even Congress is devising a plan to have staff telework “in light of the unique and unusual circumstances presented by the coronavirus.”
In-person classes at Stanford University are canceled starting next week, becoming the second major university to do so. The University of Washington was the first, moving classes online.
These are all bad for the hosts of the film conferences, technology events and senior management things, but could this all be good for the economy?
Film conferences were once very important. Cannes might have glitz and glamour but it’s really a place for deals. Film producers showing their film to distributors and cutting a deal. But why do they need to be in the same room today? Why not set up a video stream for them and get them to watch the film from wherever they are in the world? Wouldn’t that be cheaper than getting on an aircraft and spending two days flying to Texas?
One notable thing about tech events is that they tend to be in interesting places like Amsterdam and Barcelona, and you don’t get many self-employed attending. Because someone self-employed loses days of paid hours, has to pay for the flights and the tickets. And they can get the same stuff from YouTube or various learning sites like Lynda.com. Tech events are mostly a jolly for employees in bloated companies. You get 3 days out of the office, have some fun and the boss picks up the tab. Losing this will probably improve the bottom line. And “business conferences” are mostly the same.
For people working more from home, that’s a good thing. Reduced travel costs (time and petrol), less tiredness. This is gradually happening anyway, but Coronavirus has given it a boost.
And maybe everyone realises that a system of education inherited from the time before Gutenberg, when books were a scarce resource, is perhaps in need of reform. OK, you probably need to be at a university for cutting up cadavers in medicine, but for history or computer science you can probably do most of it from your parent’s spare room.
One thing about the way people work is that they often fall into habits. Change often comes from startups and small businesses because they don’t have habits. Sometimes, they’re even anti-habit. Someone in a large company sees something as wasteful and scraps it in the new company. Microsoft let their people wear what they wanted for work, rather than suits. And gradually, those new businesses replace the old. But there’s also sometimes crises that break habits. Someone is forced to do something and gets their eyes opened. They perhaps realise that the alternative works fine, or maybe better.
There’s certainly things that are going to take a hit. The delayed release of a Bond film is bad for the company making it, and for the people who like Bond films. Cancellation of music festivals are likewise a bad thing. We can’t do everything virtually, but there may be large long-term gains in terms of shifting habits.