digital life

During the recent global Covid-19 lockdown, the gig economy (almost) became the only economy. An unprecedented event in modern times, every collaborative platform – and online life as a whole – was given a massive, unexpected boost. Academic and other communication has always benefited from the internet, but during the lockdown, it came into its own and has enabled a global quest for a vaccine – again, unprecedented in its employment of tech aids. A unifying urgency has seen messaging and other platforms contribute to a global snapshot of technical aids performing at their peak, as humanity together faces an existential threat.

Any business or other organization that was doubting the efficacy and overall dominance of the worldwide web has been converted. Indeed, IT support as a whole has seen its status rise over the last six months, for good reasons. First, while e-commerce was set to be the biggest growth opportunity for the coming decade, millions of business – and many of the physical stores – have been strong-armed online in an attempt to salvage a cash flow. While some might never have bothered, as they are typically very local stores serving a local demographic, they’re there now.

Even business that has maintained its model of local sales has been inundated with tech. Messaging apps for prearranged deliveries and collections, virtual concerts, virtual launches – even virtual court cases – have become the norm. Tech support companies like Mustard IT in London – and their counterparts in every major city around the world – are seeing a new commitment to polished connectivity, telecoms and data management. In a giant leap, a few hundred million SMEs, entrepreneurs and even gig workers have tried to get online, be visible online, and conduct business that way.

Second, the user base has bent typical demographics out of shape. Young and old have been forced to employ mobile or PCs to stay connected to family, commerce, and each other. It would be no exaggeration to say that a billion or two additional people are now online – regular participants, at that – as the internet became a source of news, relief, entertainment, and communication over the global lockdown period. The global pandemic that beset the world in 2020 has been the single biggest push of humanity – after the original organic commercialisation of the internet – into online life.

Life is Remote Now

As one upshot of a ton of newbies online, scam artists have redoubled their efforts. Also, a broad glut of rubbish aimed at those newbies is proliferating. Fortunately, ecommerce is sufficiently mature to exude standard behaviors and relatively known terms and conditions. Even newly connected users are quickly catching up to the fakes online.

For commerce and industry, ‘digital transformation’ has been a buzzword for a long time now, yet greater uptake and online skill learning has happened over the last six months than in the last decade. Those who were adept at the beginning of lockdown have had a serious advantage – especially in the arena of online marketing. The digital future has left the realm of speculation and become reality. Businesses have been forced to shift priorities and sometimes scale a steep learning curve just to stay open.

Companies with extensively automated processes have been prepared by default for the extent of social distancing, while almost every company in the world has needed to institute remote work. The ‘rough experiment’ of lockdown has enabled cost savings for workers who were also commuters, but at the cost of job security and other benefits.

One shift of particular significance has been the materialization of remote medicine. Although it’s been around for years, it hasn’t really been a known phenomenon until now. It’s more than simply arranging medication online – doctors are diagnosing remotely, and medicine’s envelope has been both stretched and shrunk in places. Things like remote medicine are setting a precedent – a great many people who had been forced into it under lockdown are now unlikely to want to go back to the old way of doing things.

And it’s not just adults; schoolchildren as young as five are being drawn into a new mode of education – e-learning. School has been forever changed for countless millions of children across the globe. In the absence of gathering as a group, schools have been positively redefined over the last few months. The concern is that disadvantaged children will become a lost generation within this mode of learning, as their access to hardware and data is more limited than in affluent homes or countries.

While Google is reporting a massive increase in sales of its Chromebook, many millions of children are unable to make the switch to online learning due to financial constraints.

Not Everything About Remote Life is Grand

While everything can be remote now, the initial euphoria of millions being able to work from home has worn off, and the potential dark side of remote working, shopping, and playing is demanding to be heard.

Having to interweave one’s home and office in a seamless existence has eliminated the escape both venues provided from one another. For many, going to work was the chance to get out and express parts of themselves they found could only manifest at work. That’s gone now, and some people are not coping well without the relief valve. Also, companies have had significant leeway to interpret working relationships – or cease them altogether – all of which bodes ill for millions of working adults.

Being constantly in the face of housemates or family is atomizing and unhealthy. When there is no office to escape, home can become a prison. People by nature crave some social interaction, and the shutdown on those avenues has made lockdown surprisingly stressful for some. Working from home demands a coordination effort for most families. The old adage was that working from home was taboo – its impact on family life was seen as detrimental. That hasn’t changed. ‘Always on’ is seen as a cool business attribute, but it’s not healthy for humans.

Screen time is still screen time, and work from home arrangements massively increase it. Lastly, critics of business dumping several previously owned responsibilities into workers’ laps via remote arrangements also ponder who it is that will police working conditions if they’re remote, and how policy will be applied around the myriad of other benefits workplaces offered -which are now non-existent, possibly to return – but there’s no guarantee.

Chris McdonaldBusiness
During the recent global Covid-19 lockdown, the gig economy (almost) became the only economy. An unprecedented event in modern times, every collaborative platform - and online life as a whole - was given a massive, unexpected boost. Academic and other communication has always benefited from the internet, but during...