The new normal “is going to be, in many aspects, a sped-up version of the world we knew,” according to Fareed Zakaria.
Zakaria is not alone in this opinion, as it’s already clear that technology will play a pivotal role in reconstructing the world as we know it. A Pew Research study, featuring the perspectives of around 915 innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers, and activists, predicts that people’s relationship with technology will “deepen,” as we increasingly grow to rely on digital tools.
Eighty-six percent of respondents said the pandemic would bring about “some kind of change,” with the majority of this figure saying that digital life will have both positive and negative attributes.
What will the world look like once the pandemic is in the past? How can we address the challenges digital reliance will bring?
What Will the World Look Like Post-Pandemic?
Historically, pandemics and health crises have reignited the need for and interest in adopting new technologies and increasingly relying on existing ones. This was certainly true of the 1918 influenza pandemic. It was also true of the SARS epidemic in China in 2015. We can expect a similar — or even greater — widespread reliance on technological trends which will accelerate tech adoption. In fact, we already have, even with the COVID-19 pandemic raging on.
According to the Pew study, experts believe there will be even greater reliance on digital technologies by 2025 — and that’s not always a good thing. The report states that “the best and worst of human nature are amplified,” thanks to digital interconnectedness and increased competition.
There are already new tools and platforms for day-to-day tasks, responsibilities, and processes: telemedicine, online education delivery, at-home entertainment streaming, e-commerce, and smart systems, to name just a few.
The World of Work
One area that has demonstrably changed considerably is the world of work. Technology is playing a pivotal role in shifting many organizations to remote- or hybrid-work structures, with the widespread adoption of videoconferencing platforms, communication channels, cloud computing, and more.
More people are working remotely than they ever have in the past, and most would like to continue that structure, according to an abundance of surveys and research. And it’s not just about the work itself. Businesses are implementing remote wellness programs and offering tools to enhance collaboration.
Companies that do have employees come into the office are using technology to keep their workers safe, such as conducting testing and temperature checks, along with tracing apps and tracking devices.
But work is largely going to remain digital for many companies, at least for the ones for which it’s feasible. A Gartner survey finds that 82% of employers will allow employees to work remotely for at least part of the time.
Challenges with This New Normal
Unfortunately, the new normal will also be rife with challenges, too. Pew names problems like exacerbated economic inequality, which will likely occur as those with connectivity capabilities and tech prowess push those without access behind, even overtaking their jobs and replacing them with technology. This could also lead to a power imbalance between the haves and the have-nots.
Privacy and a lack of security are concerns as well, as is the proliferation of misinformation spread by digital means. This can effectively mean a “weaponization” of technology and manipulation of society and its individuals.
Our reliance on digital technologies, sadly, opens the door to a variety of threats — cyberattacks like hacking attempts and other forms of exploitation, for one. As the abundance of personal information people make available online grows, so, too, does the potential for attack.
How to Address Tech Challenges
Starting at a governmental level, access to technology is imperative. Today, there is an increasing need for the democratization of data and technologies, enabling everyone to take advantage of the benefits the innovative tools have to offer. There must be reforms that focus on clearing the way for equity in technology.
Business leaders can take part in these initiatives, too. They must recognize their own responsibility to both their employees and society and prioritize turning around products and services that increase accessibility and enhance our way of life. They must also understand that not all employees have equal abilities to perform work using technological platforms and find ways to accommodate their workers.
Use a Range of Tools to Enhance, Not Detract from, Well-being
Artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, the internet of things (IoT), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and other innovations all have the capacity to dramatically transform our lives. But we must use them for good, not evil.
AI, for example, can help eliminate bias from the hiring process by combing applications for skills and qualifications, rather than education or demographics that could affect biased perceptions of candidates. The IoT can facilitate strong connectivity. Cloud computing provides greater access.
We must also prioritize people’s well-being. In order to ensure that employees maintain work-life distinctions, for instance, businesses can enforce “offline hours,” mandating that they unplug after work hours.
Make Cybersecurity Central
Cybersecurity is one of the most pivotal concerns in today’s landscape. Users need to be able to trust their technologies. Meanwhile, businesses must be able to instill that trust.
This often means turning to experts to enhance the security of their tools and products and facilitate greater privacy measures. This can’t be an afterthought — development teams and companies must build technologies with these features in mind.
We are already in a new normal. But the world is continuing to change. It’s our collective responsibility to make certain we enable it to change for the better. Technology is a double-edged sword. It has the capacity to improve our lives or exacerbate the digital divide and create chaos. All people and businesses must do their part to use technology responsibly and help others do the same.