With COVID-19 lockdown restrictions issued across the globe, millions of us have been forced to hunker down “in place”, or severely limit our movements outside of the home. On learning this, most will have reached reflexively for the nearest device — if we didn’t learn it from that device to begin with. Yet mostly we are cinched in a love-hate relationship with the presiding artefacts of our time; and often we resent tech’s power over us.
Nevertheless, new circumstances can breed new attitudes. Despite having spent the last few years debating whether or not technology will destroy us, March 2020 could be the month that at least partially redeems our faith in technology by demonstrating how fortunate we are to have some incredibly sophisticated tools in our homes.
For many, they are currently the sole portal to the outside world.
In recognition of the critical role they’re playing right now, here are six technologies getting us through:
1. Health: Telemedicine
Remember back when you felt comfortable booking an appointment and going to the doctor? Simpler times. But, thanks to telemedicine, we can just as easily connect with a physician from the comfort of our own home — and due to the outbreak, millions of patients are doing exactly that.
Telemedicine may have been around for years, but need is forcing the public to familiarize themselves with it; and it is booming as a consequence. Doctors (and bots!) are triaging patients both from/in remote locations, opening up capacity at a time when in-person facilities are saturated with the seriously ill. We’re even seeing veterinarians following suit.
2. Fitness: Webinar Workouts (& fitness apps)
One of the first big responses to a housebound population came from the fitness industry. Those of us who had planned to use isolation as an excuse to retreat into couch potato mode would’ve been dismayed to see the huge influx of social advertising centered around fitness apps, online classes, and live webinar workouts.
In the UK, celebrity fitness instructor Joe Wicks has even anointed himself the nation’s PE (physical education) teacher and is broadcasting live workouts for kids at 9am daily. In the US, big name gyms like Planet Fitness have frozen memberships and are offering free at-home workouts for all via Facebook Live.
It’s worth remembering that we’d be dusting off our early-2000s celebrity workout DVDs if it wasn’t for technologically nimble companies and vastly improved streaming.
3. Business: Video Conferencing
While many businesses are bracing for an economic hit (if they haven’t already fallen…) some — like those already mentioned — have been given a real chance to shine. Chief among these must be the video-conferencing suites of Zoom, Teams, BlueJeans, Skype, and the likes. Across the globe, newly remote workers are embracing these platforms, keen to scan the facial expressions of colleagues during tense/embarrassing/generally terrible work meetings (with the added bonus of a glimpse into their homes!).
Though undeniably less of a headache for men (many professional women are now agonizing: waste a full face of Estée Lauder, or go completely barefaced….😱?), these tools are vastly preferable to the constant verbal clash and white noise of old-fashioned conference lines.
From a business perspective, face-to-facing with clients and customers also gives a level of engagement that will likely be lacking over the next few months of social distancing.
4. Relationships: Social Media
Often the villain of the piece, in some respects social media has proved its worth during this crisis. Yes, there have been (well-founded) accusations that platforms have been stoking COVID pandemonium but — misinformation aside — for relatives and friends in isolation, sites like Facebook have become something of a lifeline.
It’s easy to forget that if you don’t live next door to loved ones (and even if you do!) social media can facilitate free-flowing communication and community expression. Though doubtless it can sometimes fuel dramatic and unhelpful rumors, also helps amplify important messages about caution and gratitude. Moreover, the platforms are making a valiant effort to pump out legitimate, shareable information and advice.
5. Entertainment: Tech-Driven #Quarantainment
Outside of health, business, and relationships one of the key roles for tech has been delivering us new forms of what we are now terming #quarantainment. Bafflingly, despite having the internet, handheld devices, music on-demand, algorithmically tailored television, food and wine delivery, and streaming access to every movie ever made, it seems that we are all completely bored.
Enter: entertainment innovation, and a staggering array of technologically enabled new options. Do you want to see a theater production? Visit a museum? Listen to a sports-style commentary of the utterly mundane? Request a tune from a musical impresario? Or just watch this hot mess unfold? Talented internet folks have stepped forward to fill in the void that a few extra hours at home has produced.
Will life ever be the same again, one might ask…?
6. Information: Virtual Assistants
Love them or loathe them, our affectionless friends are here to help — and especially now that staying informed has taken on a critical purpose. According to this article, more people are turning to virtual assistants to stay up-to-date with the ever-changing global picture, as well as locally-issued orders. So far, efforts have been made to keep them reliable by prioritizing official health sources and reputable outlets.
We can’t pretend that these AI platforms are beautifully frictionless, but companies like Google and Amazon have encouraged developers to submit coronavirus specific voice-apps to help cope with the demand for up-to-date facts, figures, and announcements. Could you get these from any other device? Quite possibly; but this way you can avoid touching those grubby smartphones.
Of course, as well as “getting us through”, technology is being deployed to find vaccines and assess risk as part of a global push to stymy the spread of the virus. In China, it’s even being used to police public adherence to new health and safety rules.
While it’s absolutely right to scrutinize tech and evaluate its capacity for harm (now as much as ever) we can, without falling into complete tech solutionism, be thankful for our connectivity and engagement at this time of unfamiliar distance.