COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, continues to dominate headlines as it spreads across the globe, leading to forced closures of schools and businesses, and government mandates to shelter-in-place. In its wake, workers, businesses, governments, and educational institutions have scrambled to respond, changing the way they operate while continuing to provide necessary services to individuals, many of whom are confined to their homes.
As we all try our best to adjust to a pandemic that is estimated to be as contagious as the Spanish flu of 1918, there is one distinct advantage we have over our ancestors: technology. In the digital age, advances in technology are making it easier to respect social-distancing guidelines without life grinding to a halt. Here are four key examples of how technology is helping us adapt in these unparalleled times:
1. Virtual Conferences
As important tech conferences like SXSW and Mobile World Congress have been cancelled around the world, a series of fresh startups are seeking to bring conferences online by rolling together video, ticketing, interactivity, and networking features. And the money otherwise spent on physical venues can instead be used to enrich the events themselves. Tech giant Adobe, for example, made a rapid decision to convert its annual Adobe Summit conference, scheduled for March 31 in Vegas, completely online. IBM and Apple quickly followed suit. IBM’s Think conference in early May will now consist of “live streamed content, interactive sessions and certifications, and locally hosted events,” while Apple is converting its Worldwide Developers Conference 2020, in June, to a “format that delivers a full program with an online keynote and sessions, offering a great learning experience for our entire developer community, all around the world.”
With most schools now closed, affecting over 420 million children worldwide, educators and companies are working hand in hand to make sure learning goes on. Zoom’s CEO, Eric Yuan, made headlines with his decision to offer his company’s video conferencing platform to K–12 schools, for free, during the pandemic. Schools like the River Farm Cooperative School, in Alexandria, Virginia, are already using the offering to conduct online classes with their students, hoping to make the school day as close to normal as possible.
Higher education is following suit, with over 100 U.S. universities moving classes online. In the space of just a few days, for example, the University of Washington has moved its courses online, redesigning them to emphasize interaction, and providing resources for students that mimic what is available on campus.
3. Remote work
Across the economy, nearly every major industry is requiring at least some of their employees to work from home during the pandemic. This, in turn, is spurring a rise in technological solutions to handle the massive influx of new online workers, with companies like Microsoft, Slack, Google, and (again) Zoom providing their cloud and communications tools temporarily free in order to help out. After so many years of promises, the pandemic is provoking the “distributed work revolution” to finally take hold, with the potential of changing office and working life permanently.
In order to keep up with the increased demand on the internet that powers all of the changes listed above, over 650 service providers and trade associations have signed onto the FCC’s Keep America Connected Initiative, designed to ensure Americans do not lose telephone and broadband connectivity at this crucial time. In addition to promising not to suspend service for those unable to pay, providers are also opening Wi-Fi hotspots to anyone who needs them, providing free internet service to low-income households and expanding programs to connect families with students who are now studying at home. All of this will require increased bandwidth, which the FCC is providing on a temporary basis.
A Return to Normal?
We are living through a serious time, one in which a maximum of safety measures must be employed to keep ourselves safe. Thankfully, the combination of technological advances and free services is making it possible for many of us to continue on with our lives during these trying times. The coronavirus is causing major change to the way that Americans live, work, play, and learn. Only time will tell which and how many of these changes will become permanent fixtures, after we’ve moved on from the crisis.
Want to learn more about how technology is helping to prevent the spread of coronavirus? Read our companion piece, Coronavirus and the Internet of Things: How Technology Is Revolutionizing Patient Care.
Or visit our COVID-19 Resource Page for more updates and tips during the coronavirus pandemic.