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Social distancia, amigo: Trend-spotting in 2020

By LISA GUERRERO NAKPIL, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 26, 2020 3:00 pm

When we look back on the year 2020 from the safety of a post-COVID vaccine world, what will we be thinking? Will we be chuckling over the toilet paper panic-buying and the craving for smoky bars? Will we have recovered from the “maskne” (or mask-induced acne) and given up our leggings? Will we continue to orbit only with our bubble of chosen, COVID-free friends or be ready to hop on a plane to see the world again? By learning to do without, the pandemic has changed the world permanently.

Repurposing — or the more trendy term “pivot” — became the buzzword of the year. Homes became offices, dining tables became desks, kitchens became commissaries. Everyone became an armchair bureaucrat, poring over contagion and death rates. Housewives became statisticians, doctors became moralists, hospital administrators became ombudsmen outing this and that politician who dared flout the health rules. There was a whole new alphabet soup: ECQ, MGCQ, and IATF.

Mayors became the men of the hour, dispensing curfews and ayuda care packages. Their right-hand men, the barangay captains, orchestrated lockdowns and even arrests for behavior that threatened the “flattening of the curve.”

 Emotional rescue came in the form of sherbet-colored lights on the Anda Monument in Manila.

Village and condo association heads became all-powerful, deciding who or what could cross their thresholds. Woe be unto you if your refrigerator or air-conditioner conked out and you were forced to fend for yourself sans repairmen.

Elevators emptied out, as did high-rise offices. Makati and BGC became ghost towns and, for those who could afford it, second homes were a necessary refuge. People began to record the return of pink and peach sunsets, the first of their kind to be seen in Manila in several generations, but they also wanted the right places to view them.

Property stats show that two locations showed the highest growth in the pandemic: Valley Golf and Antipolo for the middle market; Terrazas de Punta Fuego was preferred for the upper tier. Rentals and sales for homes in the gated villages also soared, despite dire predictions over the impact of an expat exodus. People, not surprisingly, just wanted fresh air and a safe space. The City of Manila obliged by shining lights on their buildings and fountains and the DENR created an entire beach on the bay.

Amid the paranoia, it became apparent that hardest hit were the people who worked in hotels and restos (birthday cake makers, buffet mongers and bars), salons and gyms, travel agencies and airlines, theaters and live entertainment; but also call centers, construction jobs, jeepneys and taxis who in one fell swoop had their lives turned upside down and their livelihoods ripped away.

Even the once almighty mall culture was not spared, as RTW outlets, fast food, and even liquor stores (once thought to be recession-proof) were not spared. (Snap liquor bans doused any prospect of drinking to forget. One wonders now what other vices, such as jueteng and shabu, were put out.) Landlords — or that class of people whose business model and income depends on rentals — were asked to lower and even postpone their collections. Farewell to the world of Airbnb.

 Lazada would report loungewear like this would be a top seller. (Photo features cloudlounge.mnl)

An entire online economy built around Lazada, Shopee, Grab Food, Kumu games and Viber burst forth. Celebrities discovered cooking skills in creating the new fangled sushi bake and ramen sets. Co-eds began start-ups in loungewear, in the newly preferred colors of calm, cream, gray and greige. These were just some of the new wave of entrepreneurs. We were all neurotically bingeing on groceries as well as Netflix delivered online, the measure of this being the reported fourfold increase in cyber attacks on banking and credit card systems.

Social observer and art industry expert Tonico Manahan intoned, “The pandemic simply accelerated the development of the fourth Industrial Revolution,” referring to the coming of age of all things digital. Think Tik-Tok, Zoom meetings, watch parties for weddings and funerals, tele-medicine, Gardo Versoza and “cupcake” and the addiction to Korean superstars BTS. (This boyband juggernaut was deemed so important that the law imposing military service on all Korean men gave them a free pass for the first time in Korean history.)

 Korean juggernaut BTS triumphed with a captive market and landed on the cover of Time magazine.

Both pop culture and high art adapted to the new, socially distant way of life. Trickie Lopa, co-founder of ArtFair Philippines, added: “For the major art fairs, the ‘Online Viewing Room’ was the preferred channel to present cultural programming such as talks and walk-throughs, as well as works for sale.”

Pets and plants were the first beneficiaries of this isolation. “With work-from-home, people realized that they now had the time to care for a dog or cat,” says Migi Manalastas of pet-stuff purveyor Bowhouse.ph. “I guess the situation made them crave some form of companionship. Worldwide, trends in petcare parallel babycare with pet owners willing to spend as much on their fur babies.” Let’s not forget that the flora and fauna have the added advantage of not needing online schooling that can tax the sanity of parents.

 Pets preened in isolation as fur-parents lavished gear on them such as Bowhouse.ph’s Cat Cavern.

Indeed, as classrooms closed, the pandemic also opened the way to distance learning. Textbook behemoth Vibal Publishing was among the first to push learning platforms, leading to a dramatic increase in its Facebook followers by 800 percent. By October, it had recorded 4.3 million views on Facebook with aggregate views for their webinars on the VibalTV channel on YouTube topping 14.5 million views. To date, Vibal has distributed a staggering 22.4 million training certificates to a total number of 1.5 million unique attendees.

Not surprisingly, webcams, smartphones and ring-lights headlined the must-have appliances of 2020, as did air purifiers, UV lights and disinfectant footbaths, workout equipment for the home, and handheld thermometers. Where car sales flagged, demand for bicycles and motorbikes surged.

Repurposing – or the more trendy term ‘pivot’ – became the buzzword of the year. Homes became offices, dining tables became desks, kitchens became commissaries. Everyone became an armchair bureaucrat, poring over contagion and death rates.

Just when you thought we were beyond the influence of exiled movie and TV stars, out of nowhere arrived The Queen’s Gambit, an engrossing Netflix series about a flawed child prodigy played by a virtual unknown. It singlehandedly pushed up chess set sales 1,000 percent, with vintage wood versions expanding seven times in the United States alone. One wonders whether the Oscars, usually reserved for feature films with a theatrical release, will recognize this and other online phenomena in 2021.

This demonstrated one other insight proffered by trend-watching Tonico Manahan: the “flight to quality.” When in doubt or dire straits, people will go towards the highest possible values. This doesn’t just mean investing in multimillion-peso Ifugao benches or spending a king’s ransom on art. It can mean the pull of those necessary inner qualities of courage and fortitude, as well as generosity and kindness. Filipinos across the country opened not just their pocketbooks but also their hearts.

 A dolomite beach courtesy of the DENR on the Manila Bay provided relief to thousands of cooped-up denizens.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso put it best: “The greatest lesson I’ve learned in 2020 is that in governance, the health of the populace should always come first, along with the preparedness in the event of the worst health emergency situation, such as the one that hit the world, via COVID-19. It is wise to invest in the best healthcare system possible, since the health of the citizens is the key to progress. A healthy constituency brings about productivity and ultimately, growth for the city.”  It is these worthy attitudes learned on this strangest of journeys that will prepare us best for 2021.

Banner Photo by cottonbro from Pexels