How technology is keeping us together…

The rapid and worrying spread of coronavirus means the term ‘social distancing’ is now part of our everyday lexicon. It’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago, all of this was something happening on the other side of the planet. Now, it’s a reality for each and every one of us.

Whilst many of us are still grappling with how to adapt to social distancing, one thing is increasingly clear. We may be separated from each other, but we’re certainly not isolated. And it’s technology that’s keeping us together.

As one teacher wrote in the Washington Post: “It’s so easy to criticise technology. We worry about kids on their phones, their loss of attention span and time wasted…anti-tech is a popular place to be. But now…I feel the promise of tech and the amazing, hopeful connectivity of our world.”

Virtually everyone today is benefiting from our connected, tech-driven world.

The immediacy of the news and social media means we’re better informed than ever about how to behave to help prevent the spread of the disease. Public health messages about hand-washing, symptoms and how to look after yourself are everywhere – thanks to tech.

Technology is helping public health experts to figure out how to fight the disease. From anonomysed data about people’s movements which can be used to help forecast the spread of the virus to personal health monitoring apps which could help people spot symptoms early, tech has a role to play on a macro and micro scale.

There are practical benefits of all this tech too. We can get food delivered, we can order almost any product we need, we can FaceTime our friends and family, we can play, learn, create, collaborate, share ideas, all at the click of a few buttons. Life isn’t grinding to a halt, just because our physical freedom is restricted.

As we adjust to distancing ourselves from those around us, tech is helping us to maintain our sense of connection. As we watched (from our tech) the impact of enforced social isolation on other countries, there soon spread a raft of social media videos showing people playing instruments from their balconies. Without tech, only a handful of people would have benefited from the experience, now, millions of us around the globe share that sense of solidarity. And it’s happening on a smaller scale, one human to another, every single day.

We can also be productive, because technology is allowing more of us than ever before to work from home. Whilst there are a large number of jobs which require a person to be in a certain place at a certain time, there are vast swathes of our economy where people require little more than a computer and an internet connection.

It’s certainly nice to sit with colleagues, but we can replace our in-person connectivity with virtual meetings, file sharing, webinars and connected networks. With a little imagination, it’s still possible to feel part of a team, even if you’re working alone.

There are wonderful examples on social media of inspiring leaders who are managing to keep cohesion among their teams. I read yesterday of one manager who is using tech to keep his team together whilst they work from the isolation of their own homes – he’s set up lively daily briefings and virtual tea breaks where a different person each day shares the story behind an object in their home. There’s even a team Strava account to encourage colleagues to exercise. This is a great example of how tech can be used to get the job done and maintain that sense of one-ness that enables a team to function.

Of course, only time will tell what the impact is on productivity. But once the dust has settled perhaps we’ll be able to re-evaluate our relationship with tech and realise that all this driving, flying, train and meet-in-person culture isn’t as important as we thought it was.

Whilst there are certainly strange times indeed, perhaps we will all see this as the wake-up call we need to embrace technology. Who knows, with mobile network providers reporting an increase in traffic , we may well begin talking to each other more instead.

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