Editor’s note: Dr. Mike Walden is a Reynolds Distinguished Professor Emeritus at North Carolina State University and is a regular contributor to WRAL TechWire.
RALEIGH – Remote work, tele-medicine, distance learning, drone delivery – these are some of the concepts that came to life during the pandemic. If they take hold – as many futurists think they already have – a new kind of lifestyle could be created. While it won’t be the style suited for everyone, it could be a lifestyle that improves many families’ finances, time management, and enjoyment of life.
In fact, I think the new lifestyle could be such a game changer that I’ve written an entire book about it. The title is Re-Launch: Renewing Families and Reviving the American Dream in the New Independent Lifestyle of the Post-Pandemic Economy, and it is now available.
What do I mean by the “New Independent Lifestyle?” Before answering, I need to back up and describe the lifestyle that has evolved in the 21st century.
The 21st century has been a time of tremendous growth for metropolitan areas. Expanding industries like tech, finance, and health care have primarily located in metro regions to be close to colleges, universities, and a higher-educated workforce. At the same time, many small towns and rural areas have declined as the manufacturing firms they relied on couldn’t compete with lower-cost foreign producers.
The growth in metro areas has come with two costs. One is housing costs. As more people and businesses have moved to urban regions, competition for limited real estate has caused home prices and rents to soar. Indeed, housing costs have outpaced family income in the past two decades by a factor of 2 to 1.
The second cost is commuting. Limited availability and higher costs of real estate have caused many families to locate in the outer parts of the metropolitan area, often much farther from their work locations. The result is longer and more costly work commutes.
The bottom line is that families have been facing pressure on both of their prime resources – money and time. Housing is taking more of their money and commuting is using more of their time. This situation is particularly challenging for families with children, where both money and time are often tight.
Now, think about this alternative. What if the earners in a family worked remotely most of the time. The family could then be free to live outside the expensive metro areas in a small town or rural region. For homebuyers, the price of a home of a given size and amenities could cost half as much in a rural region than in a metropolitan area, thereby generating enormous monetary savings for the buyer. I estimate these savings plus others could result in monthly budgetary savings of over 20% to the family living in a remote (rural or small town) area versus a metropolitan location.
There would also be time savings to the remote-living family. Reduced commuting to work saves remote workers several hours per week, time that could be devoted to child-rearing, household chores, or just relaxation. Parents with pre-school children could substitute some of their new-found time for paid childcare, thereby reducing another major expenditure.
But what about access to medical care, shopping, and education for remote-living households? This is where innovations like tele-medicine, drone delivery of packages, and distance education come in. Each will be further improved in coming years and allow those – who want to – take advantage of the New Independent Lifestyle.
Why do I call remote living the New Independent Lifestyle? Because it frees families from being forced to pay high prices to live in metro locations or enduring long commutes if they don’t. Families will now have a choice.
But is the New Independent Lifestyle only for a select group of workers employed in sectors like tech, finance, and the professions? For today, probably yes. Yet futurists say with the development of advanced robots, some workers in construction and the crafts could work by remotely controlling robots.
Of course, for the New Independent Lifestyle to be a reality, reliable high-speed internet must be universally available in remote areas. It isn’t now, but I’m confident that a combination of traditional internet and internet from new low-orbiting satellites will make internet service available to everyone by 2030.
Finally, even households choosing to stay in metropolitan locations will benefit from those following the New Independent Lifestyle. Every family that chooses a remote location over a metro location is one less family competing for limited space in big cities and their suburbs and adding to road congestion. As a result, there will be less pressure on housing prices and traffic in metropolitan regions.
So, one result of the pandemic may be a new way to live – the New Independent Lifestyle. You can read about it in my new book, RE-Launch.