I’m Tired of Eating Like a Captive – Will We be Released in 2021

Fred E. Taylor
Professor of Real Estate
W. P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University


Subscription dinners have been shipped to our home since the beginning of the pandemic – delivered to our door, fresh ingredients with menus for meals we make together. The service advertised “Discover new ingredients, taste new flavors, and embark on a delicious culinary adventure. Good for the Planet. Eat What You Love. Good for You. Completely Convenient. Free Shipping.” We loved it at first. Healthy, convenient, cost effective and we avoided risk of infection at the grocery store. It was more secure but fun while stuck in the house. Then this past week, after 6 months of this, when I asked: “So, what should we make tonight? We have tandoori spiced tofu or vegan brats with organic sauerkraut, or peanut vegetable Buddha bowl or ”. I never finished the question. The response was borderline desperate and angry. “I’m tired of eating like a captive”. We are all tired of life constrained, feeling insecure about leaving our homes due to risk of infection. Even for those who have not believed in and adopted that behavior, life is different. How long does this go on? What can we expect in the near future?

COVID has brought to the forefront our health, health care, how we live and where we work. It has largely disrupted life, adversely affected travel, entertainment, hospitality, employment, shipping, and other industries. Do we simply go back to normal? I don’t think so.

The iPhone was launched in 2007; the beginning of the last recession. It proved to be the platform for disruptive business models – so began the age of “we have an app for that”. This device altered how we live in a positive way. Although COVID has disrupted in a negative way, it’s positive impact is the hastening adoption of other technologies that help us adjust. These technologies are fostering changes that allow life to go on even with looming known and unknown health risks.

For business, the challenge is understanding changed behaviors of employees and customers. Business and building owners never planned on disease prevention as critical to their operations. Now they need to build corporate infrastructure and put in place requirements and safeguards to accommodate changed behavior and public health requirements. Increasingly, property technology (ProTech) will allow owners and employers to better manage buildings and address health issues. The WELL Building Council is accepting applications for WELL Building Certification at a rate of 1 million SF per day worldwide which shows how health and wellness are now critical components of business.

Another result is more human activity occurring online. This was underway for more than a decade but has accelerated – from shopping and socializing to virtual working environments, meetings, and recruitment. During 2021 we can expect artificial intelligence, virtual, augmented and extended reality (AI/VI/AR/ XR) to play bigger roles in our interactions both personal and business.

This technology will help overcome issues of connectivity and social distancing without giving up interpersonal relations. They will allow avoiding what some believe risky but necessary behaviors, like going to the doctor. VR/IR and wearables will allow medical examinations and diagnosis to be increasingly carried out remotely. Much more than telemedicine, it will allow for example, Opticians to perform eye exams entirely in VR, as high-definition cameras give a clear image of the patient’s eye. AR will allow the customer to browse the range of glasses and to see what they look like on their own face without having to leave home. Many companies already use similar technology, like Warby Parker which has an app that does this but it’s clarity and accuracy will be greatly enhanced. Similarly, clothes, cars, furniture and other products will be purchased using VR or AR.

Another change will be delivery robots and drones. Provisions from Starbucks and other vendors on the ASU campus are being delivered via robots owned by a company named Starship. This method provides no touch and low infection risk delivery. I need not leave my office, stand in line and risk infection. Drones will be used to deliver vital medicine or assess areas not easily accessed and do so quicker, easier and safer. Technology can reduce interaction with those most vulnerable to infection. Robots, coupled with other forms of technology, can be used to provide new channels of communication, such as access to 24/7 in-home help, or interacting at times when it may not be safe or convenient. Robots will allow inspection and detection in building spaces as well as for cleaning and security. Sensors in buildings and public areas will be able to determine increased risk of viral transmission and alert the public while allowing officials to control the environment remotely and automatically. Technology will help make our spaces healthier.

Even if we can stop eating like a captive and head out to restaurants without fear of infection, life will be different; new business models and value propositions will provide opportunity for some and will mean the end for others. But move forward we will. The recent McKinsey Global Survey conducted in September shows a positive shift in economic sentiment. The survey results indicate half of all executives surveyed say economic conditions in their own countries will be better six months from now, while only 30 percent say they will worsen: It’s the smallest share of respondents all year to expect declining conditions. We remain optimistic and our current market conditions certainly support that feeling. Life will go on, business will thrive, communities will prosper and grow – just not the same. We need to deal with and adapt to pandemics, climate change, and political unrest if we want to stop eating like captives and remain healthy and productive – 2021 will be the inflection point. We are coming closer to the being like the Jetson’s.