Is Happiness in the Field?

“Head for the countryside” seemed to be the guiding principle of the first lockdown, and, in many ways, France’s highways in March looked like the June 1940 exodus. “We’re at war”, the president announced. Charge toward a France free of the virus, bucolic landscapes under sunny skies and a sense of summer vacations ahead of schedule.  Many of our friends used this period to focus on family, creativity, athletics — all with the sense that this was a once-in-a-lifetime break from ordinary life. Throwing themselves into telecommuting with the passion of new converts, they made Zoom’s fortune; its market cap of 120 billion is twice that of Orange and Vodaphone combined…. But Europe’s second lockdown, even though it was less strict, shed light on the limits of telecommuting when it gets dark by 5PM, when everything begins to feel routine, and when you even begin to miss the urban rat race.  The Houseparty app, unknown in 2019 and downloaded 45 million times in 2020, is beginning to fall out of favor. We’d rather celebrate a birthday around a cake than with a video conference.  The strength of our ties to our fellow classmates was forged in our time together on campus, source of our affectio societatis towards HEC.

The long period we spent together is the secret behind the solidarity of our alumni compared to academics, and the reason we have such committed volunteers; almost 1,000 alumni donate their time to the network. This is not just a matter of conviviality, but also of creativity. Keep in mind that humanity’s greatest steps forward were first taken in cities, and that the invention of the wheel and of writing, around 3500 years BC, happened during the era of the first Sumerian towns. Technical and social progress are born from human exchanges. Let us hope, then, that the business world will soon be up and running again, although without a return to those excessive and endless meetings, harrowing business trips and other time-consuming activities that we have now learned to take care of from our living rooms. By inspiring a balance between working at home and working in an office, a way of living and working that is more sensitive to biological, ecological and social factors, this ruinous pandemic might actually result in a more carbon-neutral capitalism, and in families with new kinds of role-sharing. “When Father Was Away on Business”, the title of a 1985 film by Emir Kusturica that won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival, seems very old-fashioned these days. In this time of covid and paternal leave, Dad is staying home. Let’s all celebrate!

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