Keeping your social distance

Who would have thought just a few short weeks ago that our country, and the world, would be in a near-total shutdown? It is amazing what an infectious virus can do so quickly to mankind; granted, a lot of the first wave was self-induced panic, but as the waves grow, so does the intense reality of our situation.

The preferred defense mechanism at this stage has been social distancing. Never in our time have we experienced such measures. Cities, states, and countries are shut down as everyone is told to shelter in place. People are quickly realizing that the “social” part is the hardest to overcome. Humans are a social bunch and for the most part, we seek to be with other humans. Some are now recommending promotion of the term “physical distancing,” while increasing social closeness.

Fortunately, technology is here to save the day. Working and educating from home is possible for many in today’s internet age. Technology lets us keep our physical distance but remain socially close. A huge uptick in videoconferencing is keeping the social aspect very real. People who had no idea what Facetime, Skype, Zoom, WebEx, and many other video conferencing tools do are figuring it out so that they can hold their family gathering, social time, or staff meetings. In fact, I just got my first invitation to participate in an online Happy Hour. The ticket to admission was to bring my favorite beverage. Water, coffee, wine, or whiskey – or whatever you like to drink. As I write this, I have started weekly family social hours via Zoom. Fortunately, most of the business world has a great handle on teleconferencing, with many now adding video capability. The television news world is giving us all a great example of how to stay connected with videoconferencing. My Boy Scout troop even held their first virtual troop meeting. You have not experienced anything like a video conference call with thirty 11-to 17-year-old scouts all on the same video call!

My favorite benefit of this crisis is the increase in family time. Parents are finding that maybe they have not been playing the right role in their child’s education, putting too much pressure on teachers to do all the work. The shift to home is forcing many parents to truly engage with their children, in that they no longer have help in the form of playgrounds, amusement parks, movie theaters, etc.

I have been avoiding subscribing to additional streaming services. I watch too much TV as it is. Unfortunately, the networks are filled with nothing but COVID-19 news and the sports world has shut down. I’m not a big fan of sporting event reruns, so my choices are very limited. I’ve started reaching into my many shelves of unread books instead. It has been wonderful dusting off some of the books that have been collecting on my shelves.

I do worry about internet traffic overload, though, as more activities switch to online communication, especially with the heavy demand for videoconferencing and event streaming. I’m sure that many areas are truly stressing bandwidth and it is going to only get worse for the time being. Use your bandwidth wisely.

Being a technology geek, I moved to online service for banking, bill paying, and a fair amount of shopping many years ago. I did run into a recent banking situation where the bank was requiring me to go to a local branch to address an issue. Unfortunately, two things happened to prevent that: 1) I live in a state where that particular bank does not have a branch and 2) branches were seeing clients by appointment only. I had to escalate the issue to a supervisor in order to get the issue resolved remotely.

The public health care system is getting a hard introduction to technology. Many great tools have been available for some time but many roadblocks kept them from wide use in the health care arena. Now many of those roadblocks are being knocked down. A pandemic tends to do things like that. Imagine what we could do to fight pandemics if there wasn’t such fear and restrictions surrounding the collection of real-time data that could be used to model and predict hot spots or drive better therapies to prevent the spread of disease.

Telemedicine is an area that the medical community has been promoting for years. Many areas are now requiring at least initial contact through telemedicine to reduce risk of exposure, a move that is introducing a whole new wave of people to this technology. I hope the use of telemedicine remains in place and continues to gain acceptance, because it will help reduce costs and improve access to medical care. We have a great opportunity here: Hopefully the use of technology and data analytics will continue to evolve to make the next pandemic more manageable.

What I find interesting to contemplate is “What will this look like when we emerge on the other side?” Will we snap back to the old ways of doing business or will we see a substantial bump in the use of technology to conduct our lives? For some, it is hard to imagine increasing our dependency on technology even more. For many more, it will be a crash course on the advantages of certain technology. Hopefully, our experiences now will drive funding for research and in data analytics that advance humankind in a positive direction. It will be very interesting to see what the new normal will look like when this crisis is over.

For now, it is a great time to pick up a book or take one of the many excellent online courses that are available. Stay healthy, stay safe.