The global nature of the evolving pandemic provides a unique lens to better understand our complete reliance on technology. Like “Blue Marble,” the first colored photograph of Earth, taken in 1972, COVID-19 is an ongoing snapshot in time that will alter our understanding of the importance of connectivity and the incredible tools that we have developed to maintain and enhance these connections during normal times, and even more so during disruptions the likes of which we have not seen in a century.
This moment of global pause allows us to trace the gradual transition to full reliance on technology and the internet for social and economic survival during a pandemic. As we filter our lives through the lens of “essential” and “non-essential” things, it becomes clear that technology, virtual communication, and the internet are essential to the functioning of the modern world. This tech transition highlights that access to technology can no longer be a privilege; it’s a right, and the internet, a utility.
There has been an increase in dependence on technology as the primary tool for connectivity. Almost all communication with non-cohabiters is virtual. Much of the white-collar world can now do many essential activities from home: we can work, shop for groceries, attend school, visit doctors, even see and interact with friends and family.
Winners and Losers of COVID-19
Some tech is booming as a result, but not all. As we enter a period of economic instability, coupled with the rapid transition to out-of-office work, many companies are making cuts to accessory spending including IT personnel and hardware.
Techlash on pause
While there are winners and losers in the tech-industry, there is great opportunity for all. The techlash appears to be on pause as COVID-19 captivates headlines and consumer concern, giving tech companies a unique opportunity to showcase their utility as a social asset as well as mobilize their billions in cash-on-hand to do good, subsidizing the role in some cases governments have been unable or slow to provide.
The concerns over data privacy, job displacement, and the cultural implications of technology have increased tensions between consumers and the tech industry in recent years. In order to build trust, tech companies must develop services for a “post-digital” society to better balance the positive and negative aspects that tech contributes. Accenture’s “Technology Vision 2020 Report” urges that trust and accountability must be at the forefront of consumer relations in order to survive the techlash.
The unique challenges of COVID-19 provide an opportunity for tech companies to demonstrate their commitment to people and society. They are being tested on social commitments, the mechanisms of support established for employees and even in their support of society. We are seeing with our clients an unprecedented focus on workers physical and financial needs, social connections and social responsibility. We’ve already seen companies including Microsoft, Cisco, and Zoom offer free services, allowing an untapped audience to test their software in the hopes of long-term adoption and new customer retention. But we’ve also seen how devasting to employees as well as to the brands some companies inadequate actions in response to COVID-19 employee safety have been.
As tech companies, large and small, respond to COVID-19 they must consider their workers, the technological resources they can supply for relief to society and how their actions can affect public perception post-COVID-19. With these kinds of efforts, smart and quick moving tech companies could be set up for greater success in the near-term by doing right by their workers and customers. From a consumer view, it’s never been clearer that we need the tech industry and its innovative tools, products and processes as much as they need us.
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