The Future of Wearables, Tech, and Collaboration with Christine McGrath Breuer | the Robert Benson Interview Series

September 02, 2021 - by commARCH
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The Future of Wearables, Tech, and Collaboration with Christine McGrath Breuer | the Robert Benson Interview Series

For more coverage, browse our Digital Issues for highlights of the Robert Benson interview series, related articles, and much more.

cA: In the January-February and March-April 2021 issues of commARCH, we asked leading architect Robert Benson to interview key individuals about the transformations currently occurring and what we should expect in the future regarding the built environment. For a transcript of this conversation, more interviews from the project, and full digital issues of the commARCH magazine, please visit the commARCH website at www.commarch.com.

Christine McGrath Breuer is Principal at Valerio Dewalt Train. Christine describes herself as energetic and thorough in her approach to design. Her experience spans office, hospitality, educational, and corporate spaces across the country. 
She has been vital to successfully enhancing the student experience and academic spaces at Walsh, College in Troy, Michigan, designing adaptive reuse and ground-up research and manufacturing for Omega Yeast, creating high-end bespoke offices for Balyasny Asset Management in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, and in her role serving on the Board of the ACE Mentor Program in Chicago. 

Thank you for joining us this week - let's head into the Dialogue.

Robert Benson: For this piece, I've been talking to people who are not just architects - so I had an anthropologist, I've got artists, I've got graphic arts people, I've got students, brokers, retail focused people, CEOs. So, you know, your answers need not be specifically architectural by nature. And it's really - for me - I don't personally think that we'll ever go back to 2019. I think whatever 2025 ends up being, in my mind, is going to be quite different than 2019. And what I'm interested is what, how we adapt to a new normal - and the new normal could be the virus weakens, and like the Spanish flu, just goes away.

It could be that we have to get COVID shots every year and it doesn't ever really go away. And this is just part of what we do, or it could be, we enter an era where if it isn't COVID, SARS-COV-2, it's the flu or it's something else coming at us. And we're just, now we just have to - we're going to have to pivot and adapt. Any one of those, you're welcome to believe, and it really doesn't - there's no right or wrong answers. This is really just looking for perspective. Any questions?

Christine McGrath Breuer: No, I don't think so. If you want me to put myself in a camp, I think I would put myself in the camp of: what we experienced in 2020, the sort of global pandemic, that is the reality. It's the future reality. And until we solve some of the fundamental issues causing it, they're not going away. So the best we can do is prepare ourselves socially and mentally to be more agile and resilient. 'Cause I don't think it's going to quite disappear, or if it does, it'll be the next one, and we're not going to solve, I think, the issues before the next one comes, right? If you look back at history, these are becoming more and more frequent and they're going to continue to be more frequent. And because of the way that the world is - we're such a globally meshed society at this point - the spread is also going to go really quickly, right?

RB: Yeah. I've heard a lot of people, a lot of articles, about how great New Zealand is, and I'm like, "it's an island, and oh, by the way, they cut off all travel." And, you know, it's relatively homogeneous. So, a little bit different animal, but you're right. It's a small world and stuff flies around fast. So which technology do you think makes the biggest impact post-pandemic?

CMB: The one that I'm particularly excited about is the advancement of wearable technology. Perhaps because I just think it's incredibly cool. But I also think it has real transformative power in terms of business, education and healthcare.

If I think about my own experience in the pandemic - but frankly, for a lot of people, I know the entire start of the pandemic was guided by the phrase "work from home." Okay, we've been doing that for nine months and I think we can all say the real phrase would be WFA: work from anywhere, right?

Even with everything being cloud-based I just don't think we're tethered even to home, which says some interesting things - this is off topic - about recruitment and retention. But I think that whole concept coupled with the pandemic, I think, has been - there's like an impetus for the explosion and adoption of AR and VR technologies in my industry, which have maybe not taken off as quickly as I would have expected. So I, as an architect, I'm really fascinated by the thought of walking a prospective job site or participating in a design charrette, even troubleshooting field issues with a contractor by like simply putting on a pair of glasses, something a lot more beautiful than what exists today. I think that for sure is on its way. You know, our little smartwatch (Gestures at watch) is probably in five years, not a watch at all, or if it is, it's certainly telling you a lot more than your daily steps, right?

I'm going to know when my blood pressure's going up. I'll probably know if I'm running a fever, it'll ping you to remind you to take your prescriptions and a heck of a lot more. It just seems, given we saw in the pandemic our healthcare system totally overwhelmed. And that coupled with rising costs for the US - we have a really aging population - and there's just, frankly, a prevalence of chronic disease that is plaguing us globally. I just think the transformation from a hospital-driven healthcare to a patient-driven healthcare, where we're really taking things in our own hands, so to speak, is going to be fantastic and really give us the ability to better track our health and improve our wellness holistically, for sure as we already saw in the pandemic, like telemedicine. That's for sure here to stay, right?

I think those things are beautiful. I think people love them. So I think that's why I'm particularly fascinated by the wearables. I don't think I'm going to have a smart tattoo in five years, but I do think we might start to see some mission-critical people or some really ill people with embedded devices to really assist their healthcare. I think we'll see the emergence of smart clothing. I think we will solve the battery issues with harnessing alternative power for these things. And we'll absolutely begin to rely on them for access and authentication, right? Like we're already doing it, but the idea that they'll become basically invisible things - or near invisible or custom design things - I think that that's the technology that I'm super excited about.

RB: So do you think that the insertables or the embedded chips - they've already been tested, they've already been piloted, there's programs out there to monitor glucose and things in your system with embedded, and they do a much better job. Obviously there's going to be - look at what happened with the masks and turning the mask into a political issue about freedom. Do you think that there's just going to be a technical digerati set of cultured people that are willing to accept the tattoos? Certainly they're already accepting the wearables and even the injected chip. And then there's going to be a percentage of the population that is going to reject it outright. And that's just how it's going to go.

CMB: I think that's probably why I say that I don't know that we'll be to embedded or tattoos in five years in the sense that I think the sort of political or social hurdle that we have in America, frankly, is a huge one to get over. And I haven't even reconciled in my own mind - I'm a pretty private person and that whole idea that people know where you're at and what you're doing, that sort of Big Brother aspect is a little challenging.

RB: I just got a note - your blood pressure went up with my second question.

CMB: Right, right, exactly. But when you think about people with diabetes and leukemia and all of these things, I think those would be ready adopters. And I think that the healthcare community serving those people could do a much better job, if they could have that immediacy, and people could be better advocates for themselves with it. So it's interesting, because I think from a healthcare perspective - and it's pretty easy to, I think, regulate some of the privacy concerns around that. I think the wearables are huge, or the embedded are huge. When it comes to tracing and invasion of privacy and things like that, that's where it gets really tricky for me, where I don't know where they will go.

But I think the idea that, from a healthcare perspective - even from an education perspective, even from a training perspective - that you could have an expert in a field sort of hands-on guide someone else through a surgery, or teach them how to rewire a thing, right? Like from a training, from a coaching, from education - you could have the best-in-class educators in the classroom or guiding students through - I'm thinking more about, like, engineering and lab and biology, like really hands-on: those experiences could be so wonderfully enhanced by these sort of technologies that I don't see us not - I think we'd be fools not to.

But there is, I agree with you, there will be resistance when it comes to the tracing, for sure. And tracking, and that's kind of inevitable. (Inaudible) -all of the positive aspects of it.

RB: Yeah. I had a conversation last week with somebody on the phone about a company, I Googled the company, and then the following day on my phone - I Googled that on my laptop - and on my phone on Instagram, the first ad was that company. So there is a sort of a grotesque kind of thing about this that I'm not sure that our kids are going to be bothered by. I think we knew a time when it wasn't like that, so maybe that's the issue.

You know, with respect to social behaviors, it started - well, before we get to that, I wanted to ask you, work from anywhere. If you can work from anywhere, not just work from home - and I think a lot of us, we're certainly very fortunate to have a home, and one that's large enough that we can find a place quiet to work even with kids. But if you don't work from home and you don't work from the office, where do you think you go, and why? Because you said work from anywhere.

CMB: If you don't work from home and you don't work from the office... I think it just means that we can be transient, right? I guess I don't know of the stated destination of where you go. And I will say that I think the common is definitely somewhat limited, because that's in a professional setting, right? There's a huge sector of the population whose work requires them to be at a facility. Anybody in production, in manufacturing. So it does not apply there. I guess what I'm saying is it means that it goes hand in hand with cloud-based technology. You won't be tethered right to this room or anywhere, even your laptop.

And that's what I mean anywhere. In some ways you can be a lot more efficient but you certainly can be a lot more transient as well.
RB: I understand, I was just trying to give you a pop quiz. So let me give you an example: when I go into studio, there's usually two questions every five minutes and I'm absolutely positively unable to sit down for an hour and work on something. So I started working off the third floor - our office was on 10 - I would go to the third floor, we designed a tenant lounge and I would hang out there. Or I would go to Soho House, I was a member there and I would sometimes just say, I'm taking an afternoon, I'm going to work there and end up with a cocktail and meet somebody. So I would have an amazingly wonderful - and you're right, everything's off the cloud, doesn't matter, you can pull it down anywhere.

What I'm trying to get at is, is there a marketplace for the other place that isn't - you gotta get out of the house, and it could be that your commute is really long and you want to cut it in half. So you work somewhere in the middle. It could be that you got to get out of the house because when you're at home, things get interrupted. And then there's also a psychological aspect, I think, of actually going and decompressing and doing some work and coming back. You know, is there a market - as retail has pretty much been body-slammed by the pandemic was already in big trouble - is there another tertiary place that's not office, and now home.

CMB: That's like your Starbucks, in a way, so to speak.

RB: Except that Starbucks doesn't give you - here's the thing with Starbucks, there's not enough seating. And if you have to go to the bathroom and you've pulled all your stuff out, now you're worried about your $12- $1,500 iPad Pro, your thousand dollar lab, laptop, and, whatever. And you have to just roll the dice. And if you suddenly have to do a video call in the middle of Starbucks, that's not going to work. You know - should Starbucks be there already? Like a coworking company? Shouldn't they adjust and get little private rooms on the side, expand the size of it, and, "oh, by the way, you get free coffee, if you just sign up for their coworking service."

CMB: I mean, in some ways that really aligns somewhat with the WeWork model, but I would say more like with the Convene model, where you're membership-based and you show up and you have access to the lounge, and if you want to host a meeting there...

I think that there is for sure, but I'm also somewhat fascinated because I think, having watched those places also get completely decimated by the pandemic, I'm really intrigued by the idea of a more dispersed workplace that is not necessarily third-party, but really, landlord-driven tenant, really rich kind of concierge service. At some point I was chatting with someone about, "do you think that as a major company, you could just develop a relationship, let's say, with a Heinz and you could have access to amenities in any number of Heinz buildings." So you might not go into your office, but you might go to any other building and use that tenant lounge.

So yes, I think there is. How it gets solved though is interesting to me because I think we saw that the WeWorks and the Convenes and all of those shared workplaces completely got shut down in this. And I think that exposed huge risks, right, to a bunch of commercial building owners, because they now have space that's not being used, in addition to their tenants not coming in. Part of me thinks that it'll wind up being integrated into a really more diversified experience at the office place, which may mean for you or I, that we may have an office suite - we may just have a membership. Does that make sense?

RB: It does make sense. And I think you're going to see all manner of unique relationships. I think the idea that a company is going to sign a 15-year lease for 200 seats in 50,000 square feet is not going to happen. And it was already headed that way, anyway. I think what I'm thinking from a coworking standpoint is retail. Down on the ground floor of the Starbucks. When you think about how many Starbucks are out there - in Chicago, what is there, 20 Heinz locations, maybe 15, but there's 200 Starbucks's. To me it would be an interesting thing to see a bigger hybrid - or gyms. You know, a Starbucks gym that is a coworking spot where you can do all of that stuff to me would be pretty competitive. And that's sort of like a Soho House, it just doesn't have the franchising opportunity.

Anyway, interesting. So on the terms of social behavior, what do you think are the biggest changes post-pandemic for social behavior?

CMB: I'm actually feeling fairly positive these days, and so my thoughts may be- (Overlapping)

RB: You don't have to apologize for that. (Overlapping)

CMB: My thoughts may be influenced by my current optimism. But fundamentally, I think that the pandemic, and the social and emotional and sort of psychological anxiety that came with it, woke us up a bit, all of us, in a good way in terms of civitas, and the idea that we have a common purpose and a responsibility that we share as a community.

I don't think I thought much about that before, so that, I guess, is coming from a personal place. But I think it applies to everyone that surrounds me - people are so much more aware and courteous. And I think without a doubt, we'll do better next time. We're going to be more agile. And in times of threat, we're going to pivot much more quickly and willingly to protect ourselves and others. Not only just to minimize the spread of illness, but also to minimize the time of isolation. We've gone through it, it's not fun. We're going to do what it takes to get out of it more quickly. Beyond that, though, like in the broader sense or long range term, I don't actually see social behaviors fundamentally changing that much.

We are social animals. We want to be together. I think significant relationships rely on true human interaction. So I think that we're not going to change all that much. What we might do is develop sort of two modes of operation: the way that we behave when in times of safety and the way that we behave in times of risk. But I know I've heard a lot about, just, people really dealing - isolating escapism, not going places, doing all touchless, never going out. I just don't know that I see it. I see people wanting to be back with people, close to people in a very real and authentic way when this is.

RB: So you're shaking hands, like you always did, in your mind.

CMB: I am.

RB: And hugs hello. And all of that goes right back to where it was.

CMB: Yep.

RB: Personal space doesn't change-

CMB: How about you?

RB: I didn't like the handshake anyway, myself, but, you know, I think there'll be a period, there'll be an adolescence when we come back where you don't shake hands or somebody throws their hand out and you're like, let me give you an elbow, or whatever. There'll be like some weird, awkward moments like that. I think going into a restaurant and having it be jammed, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder is really hard to imagine. I didn't like that before, the only thing I liked about it was the idea that it was a popular restaurant. So the food's going to be fresh and safe because they're turning over a lot of tables. When you go into a restaurant and it's half empty, there's always a concern that is that halibut really fresh, or did you buy that three days ago?

But now it could be different. It could be different that you're not upset that it's half empty, that you appreciate having a little more space. I don't know. I also wonder about, I know everybody - I'm dying to go back to a concert. People will go back to sporting events and concerts, but I do think, when you hear someone sneeze, when you see somebody coughing, perpetually, and you're in a conference room... I think - my hope would be that that person would wear a mask. The idea that we walked around - you know, during the winter, I would never touch an elevator with my fingertips. Even before the pandemic, I'd always go in with a knuckle or something, just because the flu is so horrible, and the stomach virus that you can get and things like that. I'm not so sure.

That's why I'm asking these questions. I wonder if we are - I do think it's possible that your personal bubble might be extended. And I think there'll be a ton of agoraphobics made during this procedure. I think there's a lot of people dying to get out. I'm dying to get out. But I think there's going to be a lot of people that have really gotten comfortable and if they have a kind of job that they can really - they're a knowledge worker, they can really work from their computer, and they're not going to want to come back.

CMB: Oh, well, I definitely agree with that and I think, as I was saying, I think there's a bit of this, like I said, wake up in terms of your sort of civic duty. And I would say that people will be more aware of... again, to the wearables, "Oh shoot. I'm running a fever," or "I should really check in," or "I can do this quick telemedicine visit to see, get tested, do a self swabbing to make sure I don't have strep" or something like that, right? I definitely see that happening as a natural turn of events. So like, being more aware of illness and germs spread. Sure. But I think we're going to forget the fear pretty quickly.

RB: Mmm.

CMB: Make sense? And we're going to go back because the joy and the fulfillment you get from a great hug and a handshake-

RB: "Oh, this is delicious, Christine, taste this, this tastes delicious." (Miming holding up food)

CMB: Sharing a drink, right?

RB: I don't know...

CMB: I'm going to sip the scotch, bud, it's going to happen.

RB: I don't know.... (Laughing)

CMB: -And maybe with just your closer group. But I think there's a lot of energy people get when they walk into a packed restaurant and they know they're in for a great meal. That brings - that makes my heart race, 'cause it's exciting. And we like that, that adrenaline, I think it's just natural, something we seek naturally. And I think, frankly, especially coming out of a long time of not having it.

I mean, I think a lot of technologies will change too. So that multiple people pressing the elevator button thing, that's not going to happen anymore.

RB: That's one I think - I think all buildings should be touchless. I did, at the very beginning of the pandemic, a lot of NIH research for clients to try to - we have a brand new building going up at Johns Hopkins. And they were immediately saying, "Did we build the wrong thing? We just spent $140 million and is nobody going to go in here?" And so, we were doing the research and the research was really clear. The coffee pot, the refrigerator, the front door, the bathroom stall, were the ones getting you sick. It was less about the airborne cough - certainly that's a big component of it - but you would touch something, and then you would touch your face. And now you have it, a cold or the flu. And I think it certainly makes a good argument that the doors should just open for us in public places. And I don't know how you deal with the toilet stall, I'm always getting out of a toilet stall. I don't want to get - we're going to go sideways in the conversation here fast, but I don't ever want to touch that. And that, again, pre-pandemic, didn't want to touch it.

So with regard to industry, and markets. And again, this isn't specifically A&E, but you could answer it that way. There are a lot of changes. But once we're back into normal, what do you think - which industries adapt most significantly to the post-pandemic?

CMB: I think I did think about this one, frankly, closer to home in terms of AE.

RB: Sure.

CMB: And as we were just talking about, interestingly, where hospitality has been completely crushed, I really think that, and this is very specific, frankly, to - really, actually, as I think about it, I think it's very specific to Midwest, coming out of the winter, spring, vaccination. You have to think that rates will go down and I think there'll be a huge pent-up demand for hospitality. And so, interestingly, I was thinking about it - I don't think that's going to change dramatically right away, because it's going to be so busy keeping up with demand. And, frankly, people really don't want - their favorite deli or their corner pub to change that much. That's the reason they love it. You know, again, longer range, sure, that'll evolve.

I think likewise, even though I'm saying, I thought - we can really work from anywhere, I think most businesses have recognized the value of workplace, a physical place, as being essential to the success of their company's mission and purpose. So your workplace might be more dispersed, might be smaller. You might not go to it every day, but I think your workplace will actually be pretty similar.
But in terms of typology, I do think - and I think this is where you were just headed - there's an absolute need and huge potential to really rethink and revamp commercial buildings at a building scale, to make them smart, to make them touchless, to integrate really sophisticated technologies and air filtration systems and things like that, so that our urban centers, frankly, don't shut down in the next pandemic. We should figure out a way - and I think we're smart enough to do it - so that they can completely function and provide, I do think they can provide: testing, monitoring, tracing data, medical support, the distribution of PPE, right?

Commercial office buildings, I think, where we were saying even before - what is that other space? I'm imagining I might go to work in the future to a building that has my Amazon pickup, my personal trainer, my doctor, right? It's going to fulfill, it's going to like really ease stress and provide an incredibly rich human experience.

And I think that's a competitive edge that landlords will seek in the future to really deliver kind of everything. Whether it's your urban high-rise or your metro 'burb. Those things will have farmer's markets, they'll have dog runs - they'll really not be the place you go in. You press the elevator, you go up, you wont be touching anything if you don't need to. Your wearable will get you where you need to go. And, you can meet with a therapist while you're there or you can drop your kid off. I think that that place has the potential to really evolve and will evolve.

Which is why, then, as major corporations - I am really fascinated by the relationships. And I'm actually really interested to know what brokers have to say about, if I'm a company that then wants to commit to X amount of square footage across the Heinz portfolio nationally, can I then pick and choose what cities and what size? And quickly transform my 20,000 square foot in Nashville to 55,000 square foot in Austin?

I think that that whole, your build-to-suit of tenant spaces will be a lot more flexible. I don't think we're going to be signing 15- and 20-year leases. I think we're going to be signing something much smaller. I think people will want maybe their own place. But from the workplace, I can see a lot of the amenities for smaller workplaces being shared in part of a larger, really concierge driven sort of experience that you're building or your landlord is managing, to make it that place. Where do you go? And so you might go up to your desk one day, but you might not, you might just go to your building or you might not go to your building, but like in my case, I might go to the building that's five minutes from my house kind of thing. I think that, from an urban scale - and even a suburban scale - there's a real potential, in my head, for commercial centers and urban office buildings to really transform into mixed-use activity hubs.

RB: Okay, so this - I think that's super interesting. And the idea that you - and again, we're bringing it full circle to the beginning of the conversation that you may not go to - there may not be an office, and you may not be at home. You might be somewhere else. But you would go to an office-like place, because it has all these amenities that can cater to you. As an architect, in your practice, would it work if - let's say you had 50 people in the studio and they were all working in different commercial buildings, but not in the same building, where you only had two or three, would that function as an office? Can you do that every day?

CMB: I think it, you have to - I think it has to be varied for different industries and for different companies. And I think for a lot of places there would be a handful for many companies, there would be a handful of centralized, physical offices and hubs. You would have a front door, it would be branded, it would have your name on it. That's where you go for your company party. It's where you go for your annual performance review. It's where you go for training sessions. But then I think for idiosyncratic - your full town hall or one-on-one working session - you might not, because what do you need there? You need technology, you need people. So I think it's a combination of both. I don't think we will see - you'll see some - but I don't think we'll see a lot of companies just quote-unquote, "hang it up forever" and say, "Oh yeah, we don't need any physical home base," I think that's too disconcerting.

Like, how do you develop talent? How do you mentor? I think you still need a home base. I just think it can evolve a little bit. But you don't necessarily need to meet in your own conference room every time. You would sometimes, but you don't necessarily need to do that all the time, because what's essential to that meeting? People and technology, right?

RB: So you think that virtual collaboration, right now - or at least in the next few years - is good enough that you could run an architecture firm remotely?

CMB: No - I think you'd want an architecture firm... no, I think in general, you'd still want to meet as people, in-person when you can, at different times, right? The things where you're doing a design charette, and you're really collaborating, there is a hiccup, right to a virtual platform.

RB: Mhm.

CMB: Even just reading body language, even to be able to just look simultaneously and see what different people are sketching or - speaking specifically to architecture? No, I think the creative process is hampered in the 100% virtual environment. So I would say, I guess, the same for industrial design, advertising, a lot of creative industries I think definitely benefit from working together in person. But we're not going to be doing it - let's be clear - we're not going to be doing that five days a week anymore.

RB: Yeah, no, I hear you on that.

CMB: You're going to go do your heads down work, and then you're going to come together for those working sessions.

RB: Yeah, the irony here is both of our spouses have worked remotely for years and years and years. So it's interesting we're having this chat. I certainly agree with you that certain companies can do that. I'm not sure that there are industries that can do it all the time and I think we're going to find out. And one of the things that no one has - well, I think one person I interviewed had said - is really get after, on the virtual collaboration, how could that improve? And right now the problem I have with it is: one-on-one, it's not bad. You and I could have a pretty good conversation this way. And if we both had iPads, I could be sketching and you could see what I'm sketching concurrently.

The real problem is, every time I have to have a meeting, I have to get everybody together for a particular time. And then only one person talks at a time and I can see - I can't read everybody's facial expression and look at something else. Whereas when I'm in studio, I'm walking behind everybody. I can see what's on the wall or I can see what's on their screen. I can have a 4-minute meeting with a 10-minute sketch session, and I just took care of two hours worth of boring virtual meetings. And I think we haven't really figured that out yet. So that, to me-

CMB: I think for sure - I'm surprised people aren't mentioning that because I think... think about the fact, like, my parents figured out Zoom through this. Think about the millions of people that did video conferencing that have never done it before. So now that we've done it, it's not that scary. I absolutely think this whole interface that we're having right now is going to absolutely accelerate, for sure. To me, it's not as interesting as wearable tech - like wearables and really discreet, embedded, smart clothing - maybe because I've done this. I think it will get a lot better. There's something about those sort of individual wearable that I think is super, super impressive.

RB: I can't wait to see your sort of ultraviolet dragon that you're going to get that's going to go on your face and- (Overlapping)

CMB: My like, horn-rimmed glasses (Overlapping) that I can just click and I can see what you're drawing and I can project and I can create my own, awesome Benjamin Moore paint, Historic Gold, or whatever it is behind me. I could change that background just by - and you won't even - the idea that some of it will be completely seamless, it won't even look - or could be, right? And I think maybe because, again, all of this comes from who you are. For me, I think that's because I'm an architect as opposed to a technology or software developer. So, the beautiful physical object that then has the power to transform and take you to a totally different place. That object, to me, is super inspiring and beautiful, versus the code that's behind all of this, is also amazing, but less beautiful to me.

We all have our own biases about what's really amazing, about how the technology gets integrated into a physical thing. And then how that physical thing is beautiful and inspiring and user-friendly is what I'm really excited about - I think you said impact, but I guess I thought about. "What am I excited about?" Super excited about that. So what typology and markets do you think are going to change?

RB: I think that retail is completely demolished and never returns. I think the workplace is very different. On a national level, I think so many big companies have realized they can really rethink what they're going to do. And you think about - a 5% tick on the national level, either way, is such a dramatic change for the economy. I really do think video conferencing technology is the number one thing that will change right off the bat. Because if there's a way to be much more collaborative,t his can happen a lot more often, and then you don't have to - it's the business travel. I think people still want to socially go to a workplace. I think that'll happen. I just think that the workplace won't be a warehouse of desks. I think it was already pushing away from that.

So I think that what we're talking with the pandemic is an accelerant, in a lot of cases. I don't know that the - I don't know that there'll be that as quite as many concerts. I don't know that - socially I'm not convinced. You're probably right, that people have a short-term memory when something they don't - it was unpleasant. But I do wonder about people's spatial awareness, when a crowd comes out of nowhere, I wonder about that. So I'm just kinda curious about that, and I think - hotels, you're touching on another really, that's another important thing that's going to change. I think vacation travel will go through the roof when this ends. Business travel is not coming back anytime soon, to the previous numbers. However, that all being said, it is just a race. How good is this collaborative technology? How good of a social relationship can you and I make, if we've never met in person? That's going to make a difference.

And I think we're - overseas. How do other cultures deal with this? Is there going to be the same amount of change? Are we expected to travel business-wise the same way we did before? Lots of questions. And I've got a little group together that's working on hybrid educational modalities, where we try to take digital and physical and fuse them into a better educational reality and experience. I think that schools are forever changed, and I think in a very positive way, I hope. And I'm super excited to see where that - and be a part of that, and see where it leads. Because I don't think it was anywhere near as far as it needed to be. But it's exciting, if you're a kid who's really good at physics, you're not limited to the teacher in your grade, you're not limited to the best teacher in your district. Theoretically, if you're crazy good, you're connecting with somebody in Bern, Switzerland, or whatever, and you're doing it that way. So I think that could be super exciting.

And then the thing we haven't really touched on, though, is that unfortunately, the disparity between people is continuing to chasm. You know, the people who are doing jobs that are not based in knowledge, are struggling through whatever they were doing before, they're still doing it. There are kids in low-income families that don't have access to the internet and families in general that don't have access to the internet, which is horrendously tragic. And if you remember that story from the two girls who were in the Taco Bell parking lot, getting wifi for school - we got to figure this out. And I think we have to figure out a way to get everybody to broadband, 'cause it's the playing field. And if you can't even get to the field, you certainly can't score.

I think, unfortunately, my concern is that the pandemic even separated everybody further and the post-pandemic - paying for all of this that's happened. I don't even begin to calculate how that works. But I'm concerned that we aren't able to do more for people who have less.

CMB: No, I totally agree. You know, a lot of the conversation is around - makes this presumption or assumption that you have access. But it's a completely different thing if you don't, and many people don't and I've been thinking about that. It's like... that gap has widened. In some ways, I think, when you were talking about the hybrid model for learning, definitely see huge benefits for that when kids are a little older. But part of me thinks we may really just need to keep sending kids back to classrooms who are young, so that they can be taught by a teacher in a classroom. One, because for the number of kids that don't come from a household whose parents can carve out the time to support them, they don't have the technology to support them, you know what I mean? That actual school house is a very essential place for a lot of kids. Now, I do agree when it comes to higher ed, that there's amazing opportunities with hybrid model. And, like you say, connecting and partnering - to your physics example, partnering with a kid from a university across the globe, right? That's pretty amazing.

But we've got some real problems at just - kids sitting in the Taco Bell parking lot that we have to solve first. And I don't think we're anywhere near close to doing that. I think you're right. That's like a major hurdle, is like, how do you actually get connectivity to everybody? Because even in the US we don't have it, let alone across the globe, nowhere near it. So that part is really scary.

RB: I think the kids are always going to go back to a building because they - we parents need daycare. And by the way, there's good social development in person collaboration with other kids. So that's really important too. I'm just pointing out that part of their experience has always been digital in recent years, and we can expand on that and make it better, but we do need to understand their physiology because when your body's at rest, as a child, your mind kind of shuts down. There's some correlations there, but anyway - that part's exciting. And I think really positive things can come out of this.

CMB: Your daughter is at the ripe age of learning, not really academics, but just sort of social navigation and negotiation. You know, how to play together in the sandbox is frankly - we can't underestimate the value of those skills for later in life. Like figuring out stuff, isolated digitally, actually probably won't make you successful later in life. I guess if everything's digital, but I really think-

RB: She's in the middle of a regression right now in her behavior because she's got the uber-cute little brother tearing the place down. So she's trying to compete with him and it's quite a household we have here.

CMB: I can imagine.

RB: Any other thoughts on adaptability and the post-pandemic world. You were - you certainly had some awesome things to say.

CMB: That's what's striking me at the moment, but if I think of something, I can send it your way.

RB: I can't thank you enough for taking the time. I know you're crazy busy with everything going on, so I really appreciate it.

cA: Thank you for joining us for this episode of the Robert Benson Interview Series in commARCH Dialogues. To stay up to date with commARCH content, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us on your favorite podcast platform. For more content like this, including a full transcript of this interview, other interviews in the series, digital issues, and more, please visit the commARCH website at www.commarch.com. Thanks for watching.

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