Here to stay? The pandemic tech that’s taking over
Times are hard. And weird. And different. But at least we have the tech to get us through it, one or another.
Sure, the coronavirus pandemic is a staggering health crisis that humanity hasn’t seen the likes of in a hundred years. But, to look on the bright side for a moment, there’s literally never been a better time in human history for us all to be placed under bizarre house arrest.
Imagine if Covid-19 – and its corresponding lockdown – had swept the world at the turn of the millennium. There would have been no Netflix or Amazon Prime to gorge on, no Facebook or Twitter to keep us connected. Instead of gift-filled group chats on Whatsapp, we’d have had to make do with doddery old SMS texts. Within a few weeks of social distancing circa 2000, most of us would have given up on trying to get through War and Peace and succumbed to Jack-Nicholson-in-The-Shining levels of cabin fever.
It stands to reason the big companies behind today’s blissful convenience and connectivity are reaping the benefits of our very strange times. Take Amazon, for example. It wasn’t exactly a plucky little indie operation before the coronavirus reared its bumpy head, but its business has skyrocketed to even crazier heights since the lockdowns began. It was recently reported the shopping behemoth’s share price has surged by more than a third, with customers splashing out almost $11,000 a second.
Of course, the likes of Amazon and Netflix have been with us for quite some time now, and they were always going to do well out of a situation where people are cooped up at home, starved of entertainment and unable to go out shopping. But the coronavirus has also been a perverse kind of blessing for other companies many of us hadn’t even heard of last year, but which have now become household names.
The Zoom Boom
Take Zoom, for example. The video conferencing tool was launched way back in 2012 by Eric Yuan, a tech entrepreneur who dreamt up the idea as a college student frustrated by having to take 10-hour train rides to see his girlfriend. But it’s only now, all these years later, that Zoom has achieved more than mere success: it’s become a symbol of our times, a brand whose very name sums up the zeitgeist. Easy to use and able to accommodate numerous people in video chats, it’s become the go-to way for students to attend classes and for socially-distanced colleagues to hold meetings (and have after-work drinks). Prime Minister Boris Johnson even held the first-ever virtual cabinet meeting through Zoom.
Will Zoom remain a big part of our lives when normality resumes? There’s been a backlash over potential security breaches, which has rather tarnished its recent success, and some big companies have even forbidden their employees from using Zoom, over worries of hackers accessing sensitive information. “Zoom-bombing”, where unauthorized people gate-crash Zoom meetings to cause trouble, has even become a thing – although one could argue that when a brand’s name is turned into a verb, it’s a sure sign it’ll be around forever (see also: Hoover, Google).
Zoom may stay central to culture, or it may slip from view while Microsoft Teams becomes the dominant platform. Either way, this kind of collaboration tech – a category which also includes work-focused chat platforms like Slack – has surely transformed the way that working from home is perceived, and may usher in a new era of fluid, flexible working practices. And, even after the pandemic is over, we may continue to have drinks, quiz nights and other social get-togethers online, because hey, it’s not weird anymore, is it?
Professional Gaming Continues to Surge
Esports – the world of competitive video games – is a sector that also stands to benefit from the age of social distancing. As with other sports, the big events scheduled to take place in stadiums and other venues have had to be canceled. But, unlike other sports, the games themselves can carry on exactly as before, with fans watching online. The fact that esports don’t take place in the “real world”, the factor which was once regarded as a drawback to mainstream interest, is now the very thing that makes esports so viable in the time of coronavirus.
The signs are there that this sector is breaking through like never before. Twitch, the prominent games streaming platform, saw its audience surge by a third in March alone, and YouTube viewership of esports leagues like the Overwatch League has spiked.
With other sports stuck in limbo, advertisers are turning to esports with new, unprecedented interest. Speaking about this exciting new moment, Darren Cox – CEO of Torque Esports – has said “We’re in discussions with many brands at the moment who are looking at esports for the first time… We want to use this as a foundation to continue to grow the sport. Many brands remain in the discovery and education process at the moment, but they are liking what they see.”
Esports is also proving invaluable in the world of sports betting, allowing gamblers to carry on placing bets and provide a revenue stream for operators still reeling from the freeze on mainstream sporting events. Speaking of which, online casino games are also proving crucial for keeping gambling sites afloat across the world. Many operators, such as those making up New Jersey’s online casino scene, are hoping that a boost to their gaming activity will somewhat offset huge losses caused by sporting event cancellations.
Times are hard. And weird. And different. But at least we have the tech to get us through it, one or another. And that tech may well change our culture for good, when the pandemic is finally – finally! – over.
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