If the predictions from science fiction literature were accurate, we’d be living in a very different society than we do today. Autonomous, flying cars would shepherd deliveries between locations while the members of our society would be interacting with holograms and living in virtual reality worlds.
Unfortunately, for those who closely follow consumer technology, its pace seems to be more glacial than transformative. While streaming media has grown exponentially, physical media still exists. While online banking is normal, physical branches have a strong foothold in both urban and suburban settings. While home automation technology has slowly invaded the home, stitching it together in a usable way is still a challenge.
Though no one should wish upon the world of technology a global pandemic like the coronavirus, its rise may actually give birth to a new world of innovation that shifts the technology world out of its methodical crawl and into an outright sprint.
While we wait to see what innovations arise from the constraints the virus has placed on our society, there are a few areas of our lives that we may see tangible change sooner rather than later. Below are five such areas that are worth watching…
The Death of Physical Media and the Rise of Direct to Streaming Movies
It’s no secret that streaming media has taken over the world. Netflix, Hulu, and a rising number of streaming services have done to the cable industry what iTunes did to the music industry many years ago. But despite the convenience of streaming media, physical disks are still prolific. CDs are still being sold, though harder to find, and Blu Ray and game discs fill retail shelves. The writing has been on the wall for many years, but the final nail has yet to be hammered into the proverbial coffin. It’s no stretch to expect physical media sales to dip further as people self-quarantine, but perhaps the virus will finally relegate optical discs to their rightful place in history: vintage items that can only be found in boutique shops that cater to those with a nostalgic view of yesteryears.
While the death of optical discs is inevitable, what may be a more intriguing development is what’s happening in the direct-to-streaming space. While Netflix has shown great success bringing Hollywood-like blockbusters directly to streaming (thanks to movies like Bright and the Irishman), Hollywood proper has pushed back. Many film festivals have even banned direct-to-streaming movies from taking home accolades or being screened during their festivals. Even with big studios like Disney releasing their own streaming services to get direct customer interaction, day-and-date streaming and movie releases remain taboo.
Enter coronavirus: with movie theaters in most countries completely shut down, and blockbuster movies ready to hit theaters, Hollywood has a problem on its hands. Does it wait to release the movie to theaters once the threat of the virus subsides? Or do they finally succumb to the streaming pressure and release the movies directly to consumers.
With most municipalities banning gatherings of more than 10 people, and requiring people to shelter in place, studios are in an envious position – they have a captive audience they can profit from. They just need to release their treasure chest of movies to the masses and hope a large number of stay-at-home families are willing to pay $10-$20 for an immediate release of the blockbuster movie for which they’ve been waiting.
But once you open that floodgate, there’s no going back.
Streamlined Access to Local Business
DoorDash, GrubHub, UberEats, and a number of delivery services were already seeing significant growth before coronavirus hit, but the number of restaurants (national chains and local establishments) that provided delivery was still relatively small. Adoption was slowed due to implementation costs, clunky integrations with legacy restaurant systems, and a general lack of urgency, especially amongst small business owners.
Fast forward to our current reality, and many restaurants are allowed only delivery or curbside service. As a result, entrepreneurial small business owners are starting to get creative in finding ways to make delivery work. This is requiring technology platforms to scale, ease integration processes, and provide a more holistic suite of tools for small businesses to get on board.
As the impact of the virus lingers, it wouldn’t be surprising to see smaller chains that didn’t feel the need to have a mobile app, suddenly decide it’s a necessity. Many local restaurants that don’t have the capital to build out their application infrastructure will be looking to piggyback on new platforms that offer menu management and delivery services. Imagine, a single platform for small business owners that enable individual customers to order local fare, with delivery and menu management is taken care of automatically. For customers, there’s the added benefit of not needing to download individual restaurant apps, call local restaurants, or work through the delivery services themselves. Such a platform can expand beyond restaurants and food service, and provide a compelling set of services to small business owners selling other wares. Customers ordering local goods and services through tool-rich platforms would keep many small businesses afloat.
Here’s to internet-based entrepreneurialism, the sky’s the limit.
Digitization of Government Services (And Voting)
Electronic voting has been the norm in many states for years, but that still requires being physically present to cast your ballot. Absentee and early voting have also seen a huge uptick in recent years, but absentee digital voting is still virtually non-existent.
With states now facing a delay in their primaries due to the coronavirus pandemic, local governments must start thinking about how they digitize their local services – and that includes voting. A society that grew up casting online votes for American Idol is largely comfortable with voting online for political issues. Now governments just need to come along for the ride.
Tests in small local elections may be the easiest starting point, but could we see something happen as soon as November’s national election if the coronavirus fears are still strong?
Surely we can’t let the gears of our political system stop because the fear of coronavirus is stronger than 250 years of the democratic process. Digital voting can keep those gears humming.
Accelerated Shift to Virtual Medicine
With New York City nearing its bed limits due to the coronavirus pandemic, the nation’s eye turns to our healthcare system to see how well it can scale to support the fight. But what better way to scale those systems, than to offload much of the non-critical healthcare needs on the digital realm?
Thankfully, much of this is already happening, it’s just flown under the radar, as organizations are now realizing the benefits they saw from virtual health during “normal” times are magnified when it comes time to fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Not only does virtual healthcare scale more rapidly than physical healthcare, but it also keeps patients and medical staff at a safe distance. A huge ally in the fight against a high communicable virus like COVID-19.
As we move through the short term expansion of virtual healthcare, it will be interesting to see how regulations around virtual medicine change in the long term and how quickly healthcare providers further scale to align their practices with those changes.
Modernization of Our Digital Banking System
Online banking has been around for years, but the underlying infrastructure of our nation’s banking system is still quite archaic. Even national banks with large online footprints are struggling to provide advanced online services (Personal note: thanks to Citibank for making me contact phone support and wait two hours just to close out my online bank account).
When many banks shut down their physical locations to fight the spread of the coronavirus, they pushed their userbase online or over the phone, overwhelming their staff and highlighting gaping holes in digital services. The result exposed customers to long phone wait times and major system stability issues.
It’s no wonder the sweeping coronavirus relief act, recently passed by congress, even considered issuing stimulus checks as digital dollars to make it easier for folks to get access to cash. It’s a sad day when the Federal Government is more progressive and digitally focused than our banking system.
Like healthcare, it’ll be interesting to see if archaic regulations in the financial space get replaced by digital-friendly laws that enable our country to better operate it’s financial systems completely outside the realm of the physical world.
While I don’t expect each of these changes to happen, at least not overnight, I am cautiously optimistic about our collective digital future. The entrepreneurial spirit of the American people, coupled with the time-sensitive nature of the coronavirus fight, will undoubtedly push us forward a few years, and I’m excited to see what that brings.