Green eggs and ham

While we wait to see if and how our habits will change, the peak of experimentation is providing algorithms with great insights

In Green eggs and ham –Dr. Seuss’s best seller, composed of only 50 words, in rhyme– the main character tries during the entire book, by all means, to convince a friend to taste a dish of green eggs and ham. He offers it to him at a house, with a mouse, in a train and in the rain. “I will not eat them in the rain –the other character answers– I would not eat them on a train. Not in the dark! Not in a tree! Not in a car! You let me be!” Only at the end the friend tastes them. He loves them. He wants to have them everywhere.

Tech analyst Benedict Evans just published a nice idea about quarantine: we are all going through a “green eggs and ham” moment. Things that have been available for some time but we didn’t consider are now our everyday menu.

This is shown very clearly in technological consumption data: Zoom went from having 10 million users a day in December to 200 million in March, according to its reports. This includes its use in 90,000 schools and in 20 countries. Kids that hadn’t been on a videoconference before are now experts in changing their background and muting the teacher. Google Meet informed that its users spend 2000 millions of minutes in meetings everyday on the platform. That is 3800 years of meetings in a day.

According to McKinsey, between 30 and 40% of Italians, Spanish and French people had their first video conference after the pandemic started. In other words: they tasted green eggs and ham. What we still don’t know is if they liked them, or if they will repeat the recipe once social distancing is over.

How much will our lives change? It can be interesting to think about that in the business-travel industry. The intuitive argument is that nobody will want to pay for their employees or public speakers to travel after having resolved their work remotely. Hopin, a tool for virtual events, even includes coffee break rooms. But just the opposite may also happen. Analyst Alex Danco has argued that business trips may revalue because they are based in a kind of prestige known as “positional scarcity”: when someone goes to a meeting on another country, he or she is prioritizing that meeting, distinguishing from a video conference, even if it is more expensive, and now perhaps even more troublesome, with health checks at airports or immunity permit requirements. There is also the revanche factor, the desire to go back to what we miss: as soon as Hermès opened in post-quarantine China, their sales hit new records.

In the opposite sense, behavioral science has shown that new habits are sustained better over time when associated with established routines. That is what we are all doing. What remains of our previous life is interspersed with new apps. I still have barbecues on Sundays, but I buy the bread on my phone.

While we wait to see if and how our habits will change, the peak of experimentation is providing algorithms with great insights. Every time we use online services we are offering information about us that companies use. We leave a trail of data. These days, it looks more like a deep hole of data, dug in our house, with a depth never seen before. From those holes –always more valuable than petroleum holes, especially at current prices– new businesses will arise.

The most promising won’t be, certainly, more teleconference services. Today we are using virtual meetings to emulate in-person meetings, not to make them better. It looks like when TV was first invented and used to film radio shows. We still don’t know which new formats will arise from those data holes that we are giving away for free these days –especially kids, the consumers of tomorrow– but those formats might be the ones that change our habits the most.

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