A Russian Witch in Moscow’s Lockdown. The Consequence

Paul Goncharoff

Since starting to pen my opinions as an American businessman in Russia I have written about the Russian “seer, or witch” who lives in my neighborhood in Moscow.

This Saturday morning, I bumped into her at the farmers market. I didn’t recognize the old lady as she was masked and gloved despite the 80-degree summery heat. Hailing me in her usual way “hello foreigner, why are you not wearing a safety mask?!” she didn’t wait for my reply but continued. “If you bought the St. George coins (gold) when I told you last year you would be a very rich man!”. She was undeniably right as gold was valued at about $1,250 – $1,300 an ounce then, and today it is closer to $1,750, which is not a shabby result in safeguarding wealth value.

She continued to chat at me with her pithy observations, when she paused and put on her “serious” face. “This virus pandemic dancing across our world is like the straw that breaks the camel’s back, you watch, we will not be the same as before. Even politics and war play second fiddle to this bug”. 

She went on to tell me about the Black Death that killed over 20 million people in the middle ages, truly nasty, as that accounted for the death of more than a third of the population west of the Urals at the time. As a result, labour became scarcer and landowners were forced to pay higher sums ‘with benefits’ to laborers. That set the stage for the political changes which in spite of the huge death toll, the Black Death essentially was the spark which forced European hierarchies to evolve, giving more power to their subjects and setting Europe on a path to greater prosperity. 

“Today we are in a similar, and I hope gentler place” she said. “When I saw you last time, I did not have anything other than my landline telephone, my savings bank account and what I keep tucked away safely elsewhere. Since March I now have such a laptop-style computer at home, my internet with this Wi-Fi nonsense, plus my granddaughter brought me this fancy Huawei phone where I can speak to her everywhere while reading, watching and learning anything on internet universe! This tiny thing is now even connected to my Sberbank online account which I use to pay for my shopping automatically and the bank adjusts my balance!” When I do not want to go outside, I now can have the supermarket deliver everything to me that I order from them on my computer and pay for with my telephone! This past month I did not need to go to the government offices to adjust my housing benefits as they sent me a ‘link’ and I could do it all myself from home, no smelly officials, immediately and without ‘vzyatka’ (bribe).” All her friends it seems are also now part of the IoT (Internet of Things), and to one or another degree are plugged in, even using Yandex Taxi or Uber and all this in the past 4-6 months since lockdown.

If we take an actuarial look back, on average in history impactful technological shifts happen every 15 to 20 years or so. Despite this century’s highspeed tech evolution they are largely driven not so much by the speed of the technology, but by generational changes. Consider that the first email was sent in 1969, the first mouse was introduced in 1968, yet they took more than 20 years to start becoming mainstream and accepted. Tech progress happens when the ‘old guard’ starts to retire, or is retired thus opening up decision-making positions for the new generation that has grown up with the tech previous generations had to get used to.

Much like in the aftermath of the Black Plague in medieval Europe, today’s pandemic is driving business and societal change to unexpectedly and rapidly learn, deploy and train people with cutting-edge online tools that, until fairly recently, were mostly isolated to the high-tech campuses. All the new software applications and the several Googly, MS and Apple ecosystems and hosts of other online productivity apps have kept our planet operating in this lockdown, shelter-in-place pandemic. This has forced almost all business owners everywhere to either welcome and accept the shift to online-first workflows or, likely, go out of business.

In many parts of the world there has come the realization that employees can not only work in ‘online-first’ environments but are thriving and being even more productive, with greater opportunities for collaboration in this ‘new’ way of doing business. This, in turn, should surely usher in the several benefits of scale and productivity that were unimaginable in previous decades. The key driver of change will be that, now, every vendor or business partner is or will be an ‘online-first’ business, which in turn forces what we call ‘legacy barriers’ to become irrelevant almost immediately (generationally speaking).

smart

For the past 6 months, I have been unable to travel for business, which usually happened once or twice a month. I have instead met with twice or more business counterparts online either on Zoom, Skype, Slack or Telegram. It is far cheaper and much more productive, although less ‘personally adventurous.’ As for cooperating with staff and the knowledge-based engines in any organization, it looks to be evolving into a decentralized 24/7 marketplace for legal support, accounting, logistics, translations, you name it, it can and is being done online today.

While not being on our headlines-of-immediacy radar, Crypto and distributed ledger technology (DLT) just might end up being the biggest winner in the long run. The essential value crypto and the blockchain bring to the business table is providing mathematically enforced trust between complete strangers. The pandemic has emphasized this reality in practice. Blockchain was designed to build applications that leverage the trust function.

A proven principle in networking and the IoT is that the value and applicability of any network grows proportionally to the squared number of its members. The unintentional consequence of the pandemic is that much of our global population now will be in several ways participating in every online network and productivity toolchain created in the past decade. 

Unlike social media, these new networks will be focused on productivity and value creation rather than just spending time as a third-party Facebook-like observer. The value of these networks will increase as if on steroids over the next few years now that the legacy dam has been breached. To digitize the myriad value propositions is where blockchains, cryptotech and tokens might find the perfect product-to-market space that has been anticipated by the development ‘nerds’ of the world for the past ten years. The pandemic has jump-started technology adoption 20 years into the future in the space of 6 months. It will be a new world once the risk immediacies of COVID-19 are medically settled and these ‘new norms’ establish their place as mainstream standards.

So, what else did my witch start me thinking about? Well, she remains a staunch supporter of using her pension and her hard-earned ‘metaphysical advisory’ fees to accumulate physical gold, although she mentioned that she has opened a physical gold account at Sberbank online, after all she is nobody’s fool and is now an online super witch. In addition, she said to me in parting “Foreigner, I have now found and purchased Ethereum (ETH), VeChain (VET), and pBTC! It is most interesting, and I have now a trading account and a  MetaMask EWallet! You should learn this too.” She has been mostly right over time, perhaps I will.

Paul Goncharoff

Moscow June 27, 2020

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