As the world awaits for the onslaught of the swine flu [porcine flu, aka A(H1N1)], there are going to be evident winners and losers. The losers? Basically all of us: consumers, society at large and business (especially with poor cash flow), if the epidemic does come home to roost. There will also be profiteers. While hospitals and pharmacies risk a deluge, the pharmaceutical companies with anti-flu medicine are bound to benefit enormously and, some say, they are behind the summer media frenzy. In the likely panic and fear-mongering that will lead up to the ‘Flu Fall, consumers will surge to buy extra tissues, hygienic towelettes (wet wipes), alcohol-based gels or sanitizers and face masks. BTW I note that Fushi-Protective has bought premium space on Google and advertises in broken English (Chinese company): “specializing in face mask prevent from swine flu.” Frankly, improving people’s personal hygiene — even making acceptable in the Western world the wearing of a face mask as we see in Asia — will be a win for society. Cleaning our hands more regularly would be a good habit to inculcate. Buying internal filtering systems that “clean” up the air inside is another interesting avenue, albeit one that provides also provides a long-term benefit (a player in this area I have come across is called AirSur, which can provide allergy-free air at home).
But, beyond the health-related plays, the one area for which the swine flu could be a super boon is distance learning. Imagine the situation: schools being closed down for long stretches, for example 12 weeks, as France’s Education Minister, Luc Chatel, has just announced as a possible measure for the upcoming bout with the potential epidemic. Schools should be getting themselves prepared to turn their courses into proper distance learning or eLearning — not just a rebroadcast of filmed lectures, but up-to-date e-pedagogy based on the exceptional possibilities that internet provides. This is a great opportunity to modernize, if not revolutionize, the education institutions — especially those that have been reluctant to move forward with technologies. The students we know will be willing. The question is whether the schools — and their teachers — will be nimble enough to react.
In the same vein, but only because I happened to be based in Paris this year, I think of distance learning as a great way to get around strikes and scam manifestations such as we experienced in several higher institutions in France (e.g. Sorbonne Paris IV, Toulouse-II Le Mirail, Aix-Marseille-I, Amiens, Caen, Nancy-II and Reims…). For the teachers and students who were forced to stay at home by a small contingent of indignant ‘revolting’ students, courses should have been available over the ‘net.
Lastly, the trend of reducing business travel (budget cuts under the guise of green fingers) and “congregation” meetings may also continue, since such meetings will only promote further contagion. Another area that is bound to benefit is thus video-conferencing and distance meetings and webinars.
So, the swine flu may be a nightmare about to happen, but I see that there may yet be positive results in the long-term, including improving our hygiene habits, reducing carbon footprints and, possibly, generalising the practice of eLearning.
Your reactions are welcome!