4 Major Ways Technology is Improving the World During COVID-19
The world has been knocked off its axis and the people within it have had to scramble to maintain a stranglehold on some sort of normalcy within the work world and within their daily lives. The stress has led to bumps and hiccups in human productivity, but the world has, by and large, accepted that everyone is dealing with some form of hardship and has been empathetic and lenient. That same grace hasn’t been extended to technology. While people have had to try and adapt with very little warning, the tools the world relies on have had to be ready to lift us up, pick up the slack, and carry us through nearly instantaneously. In short, regardless of the human angst rife in this time of uncertainty, technology has had to quickly become our lifeline during COVID-19, in even more ways, and to a greater intensity, than it was before.
Here are some ways technology has been helping us through the COVID-19 pandemic, while simultaneously moving us towards treatment options and a possible vaccine:
Work and Education
Of the many facets of life immediately affected by the sudden COVID-19 pandemic, work and schooling were the most disruptive and frightening for many people. While essential services like grocery stores and hospitals needed to stay open, office jobs were quickly shuttered and employees were suddenly thrown into the world of “Work From Home”. With colleagues sequestered from each other, the ever-present need for face-to-face interaction in the workday was quickly filled by plentiful, but largely untapped, video conferencing technology. In fact, before the pandemic, the most pervasive of the current options, Zoom, was a platform oft-unheard of by anyone but those who had already made the transition to WFH in their pre-pandemic life. It was usually overshadowed by other options, like Skype, Google Hangouts, or even Apple’s Facetime. Now, however, the name is ubiquitous with the new reality, to the extent that there’s now a term (Zoom Fatigue) to describe the exhaustion involved with being “on” all the time for video meetings. Nevertheless, Zoom’s technology suddenly and completely overshadowed the other video conferencing options by being easier to use, more robust, and simply being in the right place at the right time. The technology behind it has completely replaced the in-person interactions involved with interviews, networking hangouts, and work meetings. For better or worse, technology helped to fill the gaping human interaction void the pandemic created in the world.
Work wasn’t the only sector affected by the pandemic or the lack of physical interaction, however. With offices shut down, schools followed shortly after. Parents had to suddenly worry about their children being home for large stretches of time, without the educational expertise of fully trained educators. School boards, teachers, and educational assistants also had to grapple with creating and implementing an online educational approach for K-12 students used to sitting and collaborating in a classroom, not virtually in front of a computer screen. The learning curve was steep, but the technology that similarly helped keep office jobs on track, allowed students to maintain some level of consistent education while the world has tried to figure out how to safely bring students back into the classroom.
The economy, balanced precociously with public health, has been a major sticking point in public opinion and government decision-making during the pandemic. Different countries have balanced the two in a variety of different ways, from inaction to complete lockdown. No one yet knows how the economy will ultimately fare, but technology has yet again moved to bolster the sectors (this time, of retail and food) that have been hit hard by COVID-19.
For many years, online shopping has been a major source of revenue for many businesses. Those early adopters found themselves ready and able to overcome the massive revenue losses caused by the lockdown many countries implemented. When physical brick-and-mortar stores had to be shuttered, those businesses could continue to meet the seemingly insatiable human desire for stuff that didn’t diminish when consumers could no longer go outside. A clear reflection of the advantage of early adoption can be seen at Amazon, the world’s giant of online retail, which doubled its profits to $5.2 billion during the pandemic, compared to $2.6 billion in 2019. This success (and the desire to survive the pandemic) has forced many businesses, some of whom were dubious or unsure of taking that step to online retail, to finally take the plunge to prevent the reality of bankruptcy.
Along with the rise of online shopping, cash has slowly been falling by the wayside for years as more and more countries have adopted chip technology in their debit and credit cards. COVID-19 has only accelerated this shift as more and more businesses move towards contactless payment to avoid the germs and viruses harboured on cash. The pandemic has also forced this technology to further adapt, as both Mastercard and Visa moved to increase the tap limit from $100 to $250 to help facilitate easier, safer routine purchases like groceries without the need to handle cash or high-touch areas like the number pad on a POS machine.
Culture and Entertainment
When it feels like the world is falling apart and you’re isolated from the people you love (or you’re forlorn and suddenly left with ample free time), people turn to the time-filling, serotonin-hit that entertainment provides to give themselves a break from the lonely doom and gloom of the pandemic. Technology has, yet again, stepped in to save the day.
Movie theatres were closed for months, and even now with them slowly opening, people are unwilling to sit in close contact with others for a handful of hours to see the latest blockbuster. This was evident in the new Christopher Nolan picture, Tenet, which made a dismal $20 million domestically over the Labour Day weekend against its $205 million budget. A handful of other distributors have instead finally decided to test the waters of On Demand. Streaming technology has already become commonplace with options like Netflix, Disney+, and Hulu, but distributors releasing their movies online, with an extra fee, is an entirely new phenomenon brought about by the pandemic. This is a move that seems to have worked out for the few that have tried it. Universal’s Trolls World Tour was put up for digital rental at the price of $20 and made almost $100 million within 3 weeks. This, shockingly for many, was almost as much as the first Trolls movie made in theatres over 5 months. Disney has also dipped their toe into On Demand, with the release of Mulan in September for an additional $30 fee, and the release of the Broadway musical juggernaut Hamilton in July. While Disney hasn’t released any numbers for how much they made between those two movies, they paid $75 million for the rights to the Hamilton film alone. Needless to say, Disney wouldn’t have agreed to such an astronomical price if they hadn’t expected an even larger return. The technology is there, but it remains to be seen if this move towards at-home viewing for new releases continues past the pandemic.
Moviemakers aren’t the only ones who have started capitalizing on technology to reach out to new and pre-existing audiences during the pandemic. Museums and live theatre have started to expand their offerings online, as they have taken an even greater hit than other sectors because of COVID-19. The Globe Theatre in London has been airing VOD’s for a limited time of their back catalogue of filmed Shakespearean performances for free on YouTube. (Their 2019 production of Romeo and Juliet is currently viewable until February 2021). Museums all over the world, including the MET in New York City, the Louvre in Paris, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, have also embraced technology. They, along with many other sites, have begun using Virtual Reality to create online galleries where people from all over the world can wander their halls from the safety of their own homes. Meanwhile, the British Museum has been utilizing video and online content technology to expand its YouTube catalogue through in-depth explorations of some of their past exhibitions (notable examples include Vikings and Pompeii). They have also been posting regular Zoom conversations with curators in a series called Objects of Crisis. Each curator chooses an artifact from the museum collection which reflects the resilience of humanity when faced with adversity. It is, interestingly enough, an apt reflection of the ways in which the modern world has adopted tools, such as technology, to make it through hardship.
Health and Medical Advancement
As we’ve seen, while there have been many other examples of technological advancement and implementation during the COVID-19 pandemic, in no other area has technology been more vital than in the implementation and development of health care.
The technology behind contract tracing and testing has been vital for countries, such as Taiwan and Germany, that have kept their COVID-19 numbers relatively low. When the movements of COVID positive cases can be effectively deconstructed, and all those who were in contact with them can be reached, tested, and isolated, further community spread can be effectively mitigated. South Korea is another notable example of this, as it has access to a number of new and existing technology that has currently prioritized a healthy population over privacy. The government has been using widespread video surveillance, mobile phone data, and credit card records to track and compile the spread of COVID-19 for a centralized national database viewable by the public. South Korea has also introduced an app that tracks the location of new visitors and residents in the country which can accurately pinpoint where a positive case spent time. The technology used effectively notifies anyone in the country who was in the same vicinity and may have been exposed. Their data is so accurate, the government can tell where, when, and in what business someone with COVID spent time, as reflected in one reported text: “Magic Coin Karaoke in Jayangdong at midnight on Feb. 20”. South Korea has also been ahead of the game when it comes to testing, with free and convenient walk-up or drive-through centres that take 10 minutes. Your results are texted to you the next day, which is above and beyond the problems other countries, like the United States, have been having, where citizens, both healthy and severely ill, have either been turned away from testing sites or given faulty results.
Technology has also been vital in the ongoing hunt to create entirely new medications and test pre-existing ones to treat the effects of COVID-19. Scientists and researchers have already developed a potentially effective new drug, Remdesivir, which an in vitro study has shown to prevent human cells from being infected with the virus. Meanwhile, Canadian researchers are using technology to sequence the COVID-19 genome to help better understand how it affects the human body. Further still, scientists have been using algorithms and AI to suggest effective components for vaccines, test possible treatment configurations, scan through tens of thousands of research papers for past medical research, and to create and share data and results with the wider global scientific community. Without technology, we would have little way to effectively fight the virus, let alone test for it, as automation also has a large hand in delivering the test results of the swabs used for COVID-19 testing. Thanks to such wide-reaching and varied advancements, humanity can place their hope in a possible new drug treatment or within one of the 150 possible vaccines researches have been developing over the span of months.
As shown, technology has lifted us out of loneliness by letting us keep in touch with people from around the world, giving us an opportunity to continue to provide for ourselves and our families, keeping us entertained while we have nowhere to go, and has put us firmly on the path to overcome the worst of COVID-19. It’s anyone’s guess how the world will continue to adapt as time goes on, or whether these technological changes will be here to stay once the world goes back to relative normalcy. Regardless, it’s become clear that thanks to technology, we may very well be able to put the pandemic behind us, sooner rather than later.
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