Parallels have been drawn between the COVID-19 pandemic and the Spanish Flu that ran from 1918 to 1920. However, there’s one major difference that sets these two pandemics apart: technology. Modern technology has played a significant role during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s had both benefits and drawbacks.
The question remains: has technology had a more positive or more negative effect?
Technology has allowed organizations like the WHO and The Provincial Health Services Authority of BC to update the public in real-time on advances and new recommendations. This means that communities are better informed and prepared with facts.
Isolation can be a very dangerous thing for our mental health, so it’s vital that we remain in contact with loved ones and friends for our emotional and mental wellbeing. Loneliness can lead to an increased level of stress hormones, decreased sleep, changes in appetite, and increased anxiety. Technology has made it possible for individuals and families to adhere to social distancing without losing touch completely.
The same digital communication platforms that allow reliable organizations to communicate updates to the public can also be used by anyone. We’ve seen how fear can take over our brains and cause us to panic when we remember how grocery stores were full of empty shelves in March. In times of crisis, people will seek out information that comforts them or aligns with their views. This fear-based response means that people will believe or do anything that offers them comfort. This could be binge buying toilet paper or being part of the 23% of Facebook users sharing fake news, knowingly and unknowingly.
As for staying in touch with friends and family, not all technology is equal. Research has shown that between 5% and 10% of Americans suffer from social media addiction. Unlike a Zoom call with friends or a phone call with distant relatives, mindlessly scrolling social media feeds can lead to depression. With the pandemic impacting our work, exercise, and social lives, more screen time was expected and with it, the negative side effects.
Online shopping allows families and individuals to purchase supplies without leaving their homes. Those who are most at risk are able to get their groceries, take-out, and supplies delivered to their door.
The negative to online shopping is how easy it is. Spending in non-essential industries like electronics surged 100% in April in the US. With many professionals losing their jobs, this need to spend for comfort and entertainment could put unnecessary financial pressure on families and individuals in the coming months.
Remote schooling became a daily reality for many children. The positive to remote school is that it allows children to take more regular breaks and have a more laid back schedule. A 2016 study illustrated that children were more attentive and engaged when they learned lessons in 10-minute intervals with breaks instead of a 30-minute lesson. This same research also found that students were often more distracted when learning in groups. Technology allows children to learn at their own pace at home while still receiving instruction from their teacher and engagement with their peers.
Of those surveyed by Buffer in 2019, 99% said they wanted to work remotely. The better work-life balance, flexible schedule, and reduced commute times all seem fantastic. In fact, 2015 research found that those who work from home experienced less work-related stress and exhaustion. And, as it turns out, employee turnover is lower in remote workers as well. Without modern technology, this wouldn’t be possible.
Many students still benefit from in-class instruction, guidance, and motivation in a school system. A significant advantage of in-class schooling is the social and emotional development that takes place in the classroom with peers. Technology and remote schooling cannot replicate this. For many children, their home life is distressing and schools offer many helpful resources and a sense of security. Seven point four million American children are under emotional distress in their homes, and schools provide resources to help.
Many don’t think of the drawbacks of working from home. Twenty-two per cent of remote workers find it hard to unplug from work when home has become the office. Recent research directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that work from home can actually cue more stress and burnout. The major downside of remote work is the lack of in-person engagement. This removal from co-workers can cause loneliness and present the same risks as any other kind of isolation.
Like everything in nature and life, there are pros and cons of technology in this pandemic. Any kind of technology can have both harmful and helpful effects on the user. As I’ve said before, technology has neither a 100% negative nor positive impact.
One thing is clear — modern technology has played a significant role in how we’ve navigated the COVID-19 pandemic thus far. We’ve been able to remain in contact with our community, leaders, and loved ones. It’s also helped us learn best practices to protect ourselves and others and helped us alter our lives to continue learning and working in unprecedented times.
My new book, The Tech Solution, goes into detail about the many ways that technology can help us to connect, care, and create. The big issue is knowing how to use it wisely.
To learn more about healthy tech choices and how you can reap the benefits of technology while avoiding the drawbacks, purchase your copy of The Tech Solution now.