Published On: May 19th, 2020
To some, modern day social media has become a four-letter word. Many would argue that the original – and very good – intention of bringing people together via technology has evolved into a platform for needless arguments, a catalyst for rampant misinformation, and a new venue for bullying.
However, I would argue that those people are simply falling victim to a negative perspective, and they should be reminded of the positives the Internet has brought about – especially in these times of unprecedented physical separation due to quarantine.
Even those who have had the privilege of quarantining with others have felt loneliness during this process. And while the Internet does allow us opportunities (if you want to call them “opportunities”) to argue nonsensically with strangers about topics we don’t fully understand, that’s only a small (albeit loud) section of the Internet – and one that should likely be avoided unless you’re into that sort of thing.
In reality, we’re all benefiting from the connectivity provided by the modern Internet. Zoom video calls have become commonplace both in personal and professional worlds, inspiring new options for “hanging out” via the Internet. Virtual happy hours, virtual birthday parties, even virtual weddings are things now, and while it still may feel like a very dystopian way to spend time with your loved ones, it still provides the option to spend time with loved ones in some capacity.
Imagine, if you will, that COVID emerged in the 1990’s. At the time, the Internet did exist, but its ability to connect people was not yet fully realized. So even then, we would be in a situation where phones would be the only option to get in touch with others. We would not be able to see the faces of those not physically close by, and a lot is gained through face-to-face interaction, regardless of how its achieved.
Taking this one step further, the current digital landscape gives hope to businesses of all sizes. Sharing files, holding meetings with visual presentations, and interviewing new hires are all possible with modern connectivity, but that’s just the beginning. For many small businesses, specifically those in a service industry, the web has provided answers to unprecedented and difficult questions as to how they can safely serve people without packing dining rooms.
Social media allows these organizations to keep an open line of communication with the public to convey special hours and services. Further, online order processing offers easy transactions and order scheduling for staffs that have been dwindled down to a skeleton crew. Services like GrubHub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats also provide restaurants who may not have offered delivery in the past the option to do so seamlessly. This has helped to keep these businesses alive – and these opportunities did not exist until recently.
For so long, many people would say: “If I only had a little bit more time, I’d do X.” These statements had a ranged from the low-stakes version, “…I’d watch that show I’ve been meaning to”, to the more important, “I’d learn that programming language that will help advance my career.”
With the modern web, we can do the things that we’ve pushed off, and with the quarantine, most of us have the time. For those that are looking to catch up on shows and movies, the plethora of streaming services (and live TV providers) have allowed them to watch nearly anything they want on their own schedule and at their own pace. For sports fans who are deprived of live events (and likely will be for some time), the web allows us to watch baseball in Taiwan and Korea, and possibly even UFC fights from a remote island.
Educational advancement is also available from home with many schools and independent learning programs moving online. With schools and college campuses forced to close, the new normal of life without a physical campus or classroom has brought about video conference lectures via the aforementioned Zoom, online course management, and even commencement ceremonies on Minecraft.
For the many not enrolled in school, but still seek to advance their knowledge and skills, the opportunity to take courses in any subject online is available through services like Udemy, Khan Academy, and Coursera. Further, an increasing number of colleges, including Harvard, are now opening some of their online courses to the public.
Without the web, would schools be able to function at all during this pandemic? It’s unlikely. However, with the web, the optimistic among us (myself included) are hopeful that, not only will students continue to learn during this pandemic, but many adult learners will return from quarantine with useful new knowledge and skills.
Finally, while many would argue that the Internet is the cause of widespread misinformation, I’d argue the opposite: The Internet actually provides us the tools we need to disprove falsehoods – tools that were not available to use previously. It is the responsibility of each person to use these fact checking tools, and while many don’t, resulting in the wide spread of “fake news”, we should not pretend that the Internet berthed the concept of rumors.
If this crisis were to have taken place at a time before the Internet, a single rumor may not spread as far, but many little rumors would be traveling from person to person without much opportunity to discredit falsehoods on the spot. Nowadays, while the Internet gives us reason to be skeptical of the news we hear, we also know (or most of us do) that it’s responsible to check the accuracy of any report before sharing it.
Overall, and especially during times of crisis, the Internet is what each individual makes of it. Surely, there are people who have spent their quarantine complaining about boredom on Facebook, but a majority of people are using the web productively and positively. From the people taking the opportunity to connect with old friends via video conference to those heading online fundraising initiatives to support medical staff, you can see beautiful results coming from people utilizing the Internet for good and to maintain normalcy.
So if you’re one of those who has cursed the negative outcomes of the Internet, or who has found themselves lacking for things to do during this quarantine, shift your focus to the amazing opportunities at your fingertips. And take advantage of them.