Social distancing has been a challenge for much of the world’s population in recent months, but it is undeniable that technology has been a great ally in maintaining quarantine and living as close to normal as possible. It is because of the mass availability of advanced computing, communications and networking platforms that it is now possible for businesses, schools and universities to remain somewhat operational. It is these same technologies that have allowed people to interact with each other even when physically apart and for purchases to arrive at our homes despite stores being closed.
With our daily activities now almost completely dependent on the internet, it is difficult to imagine how we would be coping if this pandemic had hit us ten years ago, in 2010, when most of the technologies that are helping us did not exist or were in the early stages of development:
- Working from home would be a much bigger challenge. Just over ten years ago, home internet penetration in Brazil was no more than 18%. (Nowadays it is more than 67%). Video conferencing solutions were not as refined or widely available, with many of the more popular platforms used today (i.e. Microsoft Teams and Zoom) not even available to the masses. As such, it would not have been as simple as it is today to bring teams together “face to face” virtually.
- Entertaining ourselves at home would be much more difficult. Netflix, which is now the main streaming service in Brazil with more than 10 million subscribers, didn’t make its debut in the country until 2011. Therefore, we would be restricted to the inflexibility of television and the limited offering of our DVD collections since the video rental shops would also be closed. We would not have a flood of live streams available, nor would TikTok be available. Though Brazilians were already super connected in 2010, with 86% of internet users using social networks, our online social interactions happened primarily through limited-feature versions of Facebook and Twitter accessed mostly on desktops.
- It would also be more complicated to deal with loneliness. Although WhatsApp was already available in 2010, smartphones were not so common in Brazil. There are currently over 230 million active smartphones in the country, but in 2010, there were only 32 million across all of Latin America. People still communicated through text messages, emails and voice calls. Though smartphones now support thousands of applications that make our lives easier, from digital driver's licenses to apps that call a car or indicate the best way to get from point A or point B – none of them existed 10 years ago.
- Shopping and product distribution, in general, would be much more problematic. In 2010, the Brazilian eCommerce market was a quarter of the size it is today, which means our access to stores and products would have been limited. We wouldn’t have had the luxury to use shipping apps like iFood, Rappi and Loggi, which today deliver market and pharmacy purchases, meals and basically anything else you may need. If we would have needed something while social distancing, we would have been forced to move more through the streets or place orders over the phone. Corporate solutions that streamline the operations and logistics of physical and digital retailers, such as RFID, barcodes and scanners, were also not as advanced or widespread as the current ones, which could led to even more dramatic and prolonged goods in shortages than what was seen in the early days of the 2020 pandemic surge demand period.
- Paying bills and making online transfers, in general, would not be as common as they are today. Banks’ websites and applications were not yet as efficient as they are now and the resistance of account holders to utilize digital channels was also greater. It took time to build trust.
- Hospitals and labs may not have been able to meet the high demand sustained today. The healthcare automation technologies proving so vital in today’s fight against COVID-19 simply didn’t exist. Even with so many smartphones and other data capture and analysis tools available today, some countries are struggling to track cases, expedite diagnostic processes and manage the influx of patients. Technology introduces efficiency.
A Final Thought
It is a fact that we are going through one of the worst global crises of recent times, but the widespread availability of technology is giving us an advantage. Mobile, internet and automation technologies are helping us better cope with COVID-19 impacts and, in many cases, mitigate the impacts. It is because of the significant technological advancements made in the last decade that we will also be able to quickly adapt and move forward with our lives. We have the tools needed to shop, socialize and sustain our favorite activities, albeit from a distance. We can continue to connect with the people and businesses that matter most to us, and that is something for which we should be grateful.