Technology in the Time of Pandemic
[Part of this column was published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune]
I will never forget the first time I was able to surf the Internet with a high-speed T-1 line in the mid-1990s. The aha insight for me was that, ultimately, everything that existed in the physical world would have to be designed and invented for the on-line world.
When I first discovered and then ordered from Amazon I thought, well, books are covered, now the rest of products we buy will come on-line. At that time, it was not apparent to users that Amazon would step into that void and become THE on-line retail outlet for wide selection, great customer support and of course rapid shipping.
Gradually, in the 25 years since that epiphany, ever more of how we buy, how we bank, how are entertained, how we communicate, how we create community have been moving on-line. Now with COVID-19 we have moved – many of us- all our life activities other than going to the grocery store or pharmacy to the on-line world.
The implications of this in our time of pandemic, both short and long-term, could well be transformational. There might well be a pre-COVID-19 and a post-COVID-19 view of on-line life
The Two Realities
Since 2008 I have spoken to the new truth that those of us alive in the 21st Century are the first iteration of humanity to have to manage two simultaneous realities; the physical reality and the screen reality. The physical reality is based on atoms and the screen reality is based upon digits. This means that the screen reality morphs more quickly than the physical reality, meaning that often times the future shows up first on the screen reality.
In 2010 I started to forecast a huge collapse of physical retail in the U.S. for the coming decade and that is exactly what happened. Why? Amazon.com That was followed by Airbnb and Uber, both companies that have both changed industries, and done so without owning hotel rooms or cars respectively. The Internet basically disintermediated much of the business to consumer relationships. Stock brokerage, airline tickets, travel bookings, and just about anything, including all aspects of clothing and yes, even automobiles can be purchased on-line.
Think back say 10 years ago and look at your habits, devices and how you bought things. How much more of your household transactions are on-line than at the beginning of the last decade? How much more reliant are you to your handheld device. It was almost unheard of in retirement homes 10 years ago to see residents texting. Now many of them do.
It had been clear to me around the same time as that insight about reality being replicated in cyberspace. Blockbuster went from tapes to DVDs to out of business. No surprise when Netflix went from DVDs in the mail to on-line. Just look at their name!
10 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined how much TV and movies I would watch on my large screen iPhone 8+. Great for airplane travel and hotels -remember those things? I have 110 gigabytes of music, 4 gigabytes of video [not traveling] and 4 gigabytes of books, printed and audio – on the phone! All that stuff would have taken a large room full of shelves, now all of it is in my hand. Of course, in addition to that, I get some 300 emails in a day a lot of which are newsletters, curation emails in a variety of topics, and of course several digital versions of newspapers and magazines
So I look back to that aha! Moment 25 years ago and realize that the vision first seen then has largely come true; much of the 20th century reality world is now on-line, in addition to endless amounts of digital only 21st century type of content.
COVID-19 is the accelerated completion of this 25-year old vision. Millions of us now Zoom and FaceTime far more than before this time of pandemic. Streaming video services and safe, at home cooking will, for some people, become a much more acceptable combo than going out to overspend on dinner and then on a crowded movie theater. This time of pandemic is an accelerant to the creation of being able to live, work, socialize, buy, and be entertained, all in the screen reality.
It is technology that is saving us, that is connecting us, that is keeping a sense of community. We are all making a technological Declaration of Interdependence. Technology is giving us the sense of connection and community we otherwise would not have. Literally, our human oriented community exists now in the screen reality. We view all the uplifting stories, the pandemic jokes, the sharing of good deeds completely in the screen reality. This is such a stark contrast with the never ending incompetence and lack of leadership from the top of the U.S. government given top down. We feel human because we are connected in the screen reality.
Necessity is the mother of invention [and a great name for a band] and the necessity of self-quarantine will create an acceleration of living life on-line. How we permanently alter our behavior, purchasing, socializing and information consumption and for how long, are the questions for the post-COVID-19 world.
It will be much more of a screen based society and culture that we could ever have imagined 10 or 20 years ago.