Going Digital: COVID-19's Most Valuable Player?
Before the onset of COVID-19 challenged all notions of normalcy, opinions about the roll of technology in society varied — particularly between generations. Although reliance on technology is often considered a Millennial trademark, I would presume that most individuals in GenX (born after 1965) or younger consider themselves, at the minimum, technologically savvy. Their day-to-day activities, both professional and personal, required engagement with technology in some way or another — a process so repetitious that it almost becomes second nature.
Baby Boomers (born after 1946) , on the other hand, and a few of their "Silent Generation" (born after 1925) longevous predecessors, often struggle with this continuously digitizing society — creating both communication barriers and accessibility inequities. Something as simple as paying for parking on a smart phone can feel overwhelming for older folks, and asking for help isn't always easy nor is giving help easy either, as many children and grandchildren can attest to. Teaching an old dogs new tricks is, in fact, quite difficult.
When COVID-19 hit and life started to literally shut down, professionals immediately turned to technology to bridge the gap and maintain productivity, as best as possible. Rightfully so, this shift to digital practices was anxiety-inducing for much of the population: the elderly, of course, but also lower-income communities that don't own private technology devices and would be thus disadvantaged. How would we possibly adjust to this new, technological normal?
Looking back on that tech-driven paranoia, now four months or so into quarantine, most would agree that technology really stepped up to the plate. From finishing off the school year through Zoom classes, to live streaming weddings on Google-Meet, to taking yoga through Facebook live, to singing Happy Birthday on Skype — technology allowed us to gather when we physically couldn't. We could order food, take a business call, chat with friends, and even record and submit our health symptoms to doctors and employers, all from one device (and often in the comfort of our pajamas). It was an introverts dream. Not to mention that all of this is just the cherry on top of the innovative and experimental medical research being done to fight this virus, much of which wouldn't be possible without advanced technology.
This switch also raised awareness around technologically related inequalities within our communities — highlighting who had enough resources to carry on with their daily activities and who didn't. It was particularly poignant to realize how vastly unequal a family of 6, sharing one computer, is in comparison to a family of two adults and one young child, all of whom had a cellphone, a tablet and sometimes even a computer. It also sparked conversation in the disability activism circle, particularly criticism around the difference between COVID era acceptance of digital participation, particularly working from home, and the pre-COVID era unwillingness. People had been telling us for years that technology could facilitate an efficient and accessible professional practice, we just weren't listening.
As helpful as technology has been for us during this time, it can't replace the feeling of hugging your mom, attending your best friends wedding or watching your favorite artist live in concert. We're all hoping that, someday soon, we'll be to see things not only on screen but many are worried that things will never really be the same. Will some activities stay virtual, now that technology has proven its efficiency? How will our perception of "non-essential" engagement shift back, if at all? We can't be certain, which is, too many, the scariest part of all.