Burton: COVID-19 could permanently change how we connect with each other


“Some individuals have taken to social media to make memes about the coronavirus while others have documented instances of discrimination in public spaces and taken a stand against xenophobia.” (Photo by Justin Prather | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Logan Burton, Opinion Writer


Social distancing has dramatically shifted the way we work and study. Telecommuting and online schooling have seen an unprecedented rise during the pandemic, though the necessary technology for these practices has existed for years. We already rely heavily on technology for many tasks, but the pandemic has shown the extent to which we are dependent on our very powerful telecommunications — and how we can use them to rebuild in times of crisis. While many companies may face a dire future, the technology sector may come out stronger and more ubiquitous than ever before, creating a world that may prove to be socially distancing in itself.


Convenience is king

The coronavirus has greatly decreased the accessibility of many goods and services, but not technology. The technology sector — specifically the telecommunications sector — possesses the tremendous advantage of accessibility, and the present situation demands online communication like never before. To begin creating software, one only really needs a computer and a marketable idea. Software products are easily available to anyone with a device and internet access. This is tremendously time-saving and convenient.

Many employers and employees save on opportunity costs as they can instantly communicate, work and entertain through applications without having to spend much time setting up. Gone are the days of inconvenient traffic jams, late nights away from home and workplace annoyances. A variety and an essentially limitless supply of software applications give consumers overwhelming numbers of alternatives — as the surge in downloads of telecommunications apps like Slack, Zoom, WeChat and others demonstrates. While people are eager to go back to work, these new uses of communication technology may continue after the outbreak, pushing us into an even more tech-centric world.


Easy setup, saving time

This accessibility has allowed a relatively quick transition to work from home in countless companies — in fact, telecommuting has already become the norm. For example, thousands of students at the University of Utah and elsewhere have studied online exclusively for weeks now. Perhaps there will be larger online class sizes in the future now that it has been shown to work in an emergency. Many companies may find that even after the coronavirus blows over, the cost-saving measures of relying on remote working or learning may be beneficial. More companies may choose to operate without a physical working headquarters.


Minor challenges against the inevitable

Many factors will challenge the rise of teleworking. More frequent usage presents more cybersecurity threats. The FBI has even issued a statement warning of potential hacks on teleconferences. Though telecommunications are a method of connection, working remotely may prove to be very isolating for many. A backlash against remote working may happen as the coronavirus becomes less severe and social distancing less needed. All of these may provide issues now or in the future, but the adaptation of newer, more technological advances will not be halted.


A future of social distancing?

While technology intends to facilitate easier and increased communication, this trend may turn out to alienate our society even further. Social media and other tools can never completely replace direct contact communication. Of course, face-to-face conversations and discussions will likely never go away, but our increased reliance on high-tech daily communication methods could rob us of the meaningful connections that can only be made in person. Technology may give the illusion of social fulfillment through quantity, but it is a cheap replacement for the real thing.

Perhaps one of the greatest casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic will be our social lives. They have been totally upended, leaving us with technology as the only apparent remedy. Technology and communication may be even more intertwined by the end of the pandemic, but we need to be deliberate about how and whether we truly connect with others. The singer-songwriter Father John Misty warns in his song “Total Entertainment Forever” that “now the future’s definition is so much higher than it was last year. It’s like the images have all become real and someone’s living my life for me out in the mirror. ” Connection was never meant to be easy – so if it seems difficult now and into the future, you’re probably doing something right.


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Editor’s note: Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, dry cough, tiredness and shortness of breath. These symptoms are believed to occur between two and 14 days after a person is exposed to the disease. If you have these symptoms and have recently come into contact with a person who is known to have COVID-19, or if you have recently traveled to an area with community spread of the disease, you should call your doctor. Areas with community spread of COVID-19 are believed to include China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and Seattle. If you do not have a doctor who you visit regularly, please call the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 or the University of Utah Health hotline at 801-587-0712. Do not go to a healthcare facility without first making arrangements to do so.