As February crept onward, the stock market hit an all-time high, unemployment was at a historical low, and the economy was chugging along as though nothing could stop it. Suddenly, the onward global march of the coronavirus (COVID-19) stopped everything, including the financial markets, in its tracks.
As a fiscally minded individual, I cringed as I slowly watched my 401k and investments erode, completely losing sight of the more important long term implications of the virus. As the markets continue to fluctuate, I’m finding it hard not to cash out as I see daily punches being landed on my investment portfolio. So to turn an unhealthy obsession on the financial impact of the coronavirus into a more healthy dialogue, I believe it’s necessary to take a look at how we’re using technology to deal with these situations.
So how has the digital world shaped our reaction to such events? Let’s take a look at four major areas…
Communication & Socialization
The evolving 24/7 news cycle, live reporting, and the rise of social media over the years has forever changed the way we communicate and understand world events. Working in concert, digital and social media has cast a spotlight on recent events, something impossible for all but the most recent pandemics.
But this is no longer a one-way street, as technology is being used not only to report on what’s happening but to proactively shape human behavior, as is evidenced by numerous cities and countries adopting and implementing mobile warning systems.
Thirty years ago, distribution existed only in the physical realm. Now the distribution of content via the internet has changed the way we interact, entertain, and live our lives.
In the past, when government entities went on lockdown, the spread of the disease wasn’t the only thing impacted: the spread of information, and the fidelity of information, was also restricted.
Now, with homes having multiple devices (phones, tablets, and television) with instant access to the outside world, we’re seeing the opposite problem, but the same result. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt are still present, but not because of lack of information, but instead because of the overload from multiple streams of information. News channels clamoring for viewers are sensationalizing the ordeal. The fear of missing out (FOMO), which in the past spread through digital channels and incentivized people to attend events, has led to toilet paper shortages, since there are no longer any scheduled events to miss out on.
On a more optimistic note, we’ve never had a time in our history when entertainment is so accessible. Despite major sporting events being canceled, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Apple TV, and other streaming services have large back catalogs of content that will get us through. Even if their back catalogs run thin, and subscriber counts don’t grow significantly, the organizations have deep pockets to buy content and keep existing subscribers happy. Never has there been a better time to “Netflix and chill”.
Outside of the fully digital space, technology has even helped streamline our physical delivery systems. While Amazon Prime and other same-day delivery services may be struggling to keep up with corona-fueled purchasing, it’s still a first world problem we should appreciate. It’s really not that bad if you’re forced to wait an additional day to bolster your already bunker-busting supply of two-ply toilet paper.
Our healthcare systems have taken the brunt of the coronavirus punch, but virtual and telemedicine have evolved to help shoulder some of that burden. Digital health is still imperfect when it comes to remote diagnosis or proactively preventing the spread of the virus, but situations like this may lead to more public-private partnerships to evolve digital healthcare.
In addition to the advance of traditional healthcare at the hands of technology, the digital world has showcased the importance of more modern techniques like genetic sequencing and genome tracing. China was able to quickly release the generic sequence of the virus, and numerous gene detectives have been using their knowledge of genetics to trace the spread of the disease.
Working from home has become commonplace in the world of business, but never before has the need for it been so great. What was completely impractical 20 years ago may be the saving grace for many organizations today.
While the fallout from the coronavirus will inevitably dent our economy (and has already impacted certain industries), it may be the digitization of work that enables many enterprises to continue operations with minimal disruption.
It’s situations like this that help us refocus on the important things in life, such as simplicity over complexity and familial connections over superficial friend requests. While our focus should be on getting back to these basics, it’s also valuable to look at the world, at least briefly, through a digital lens to see how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go.
This was by no means an exhaustive list of how the digitization of society has impacted the global response to the coronavirus. It is, however, a way to shift focus away from the sensationalized media and towards more constructive conversations on how we can leverage technology to minimize the impact of such crisis moving forward.
It’s unfortunate that pandemics like this highlight the frailty of many of our digital systems, but these situations will help us identify bottlenecks, scale our infrastructure, and reduce the impact of such outbreaks in the future.
Technology is impressive. After all, how else would we be communicating at a time like this if it wasn’t for the onward march of the digital world?