Tech in the time of corona

By Kaavya Butaney

Four months ago, when 2020 began, I never expected that I would be watching screencasts from my English teacher, sending videos to my Spanish teacher and sending proofs by image to my math teacher instead of attending class on campus. I never expected to have so much information about a pandemic yet still feel completely confused. And most surprisingly, I never expected my phone to be the only reason I had a modicum of an idea of what was happening.

Emily Zhu

COVID-19, commonly referred to as the coronavirus, has caused an unprecedented situation throughout the world. This is common knowledge, this is the everyday reality. Yet there is something we don’t realize—how critical technology is with coping with the pandemic. There have been many pandemics in the past: the Black Death in the Middle Ages, the influenza in the 1900s, but this is the first pandemic to occur in this digital age.

For example, the time I spent on my phone has nearly doubled since shelter-in-place. Look, it’s not my fault. Being trapped at home means I have a tendency to refresh Instagram over and over and over again, causing me to watch the Story challenges play out in real time. You probably know what I’m talking about—challenges to draw a strawberry, a tomato, a house (all of which I did draw terribly), but more pervasively, the work-out challenges, the #gameface pictures, and most famously, #girlssupportgirls.

While many believe the challenges are stupid and a waste of time, I think they’re innocent and well-intentioned because, honestly, right now people need all the positivity they can get. This en masse communication wouldn’t be possible even ten years ago, so we should enjoy it.

Social media is a good distraction, something happy for when you’re really confused or stressed—it’s a good break from real life. But this isn’t the only way technology has pervaded the shelter-in-place experience. Take another example: my social life.

My social life is dead, limited to texting and FaceTiming, with no opportunity to meet face-to-face. Many people are, in fact, spending hours upon hours FaceTiming their friends every day. Others are using Netflix Party, which allows you to watch Netflix at the exact same time as your friend.

It’s a huge jump from seeing your friends five times a week to not seeing them for weeks upon end. I miss my friends, and it’s weird not being able to give them a hug, not seeing them as I walk to class or not eating lunch with them. And honestly? FaceTime is necessary to stay sane. Look, our families might be great, but believe me, I’m tired of my family too. I’ve considered fratricide more than once, if only to stop my younger brother from saying, “Innit, guvna” in an awful British accent. We can FaceTime our friends for seven hours a day, if we need to, because that’s what the tech allows us to do.

So, FaceTime your best friend for seven hours if that’s what you need. Watch six movies in a row on Netflix Party (although that’s probably bad) with your friend if you need that, too. We got lucky, because that’s possible. Although it sucks to not see our friends, at least we can contact them through FaceTime and spend time with them.

Technology has definitely changed our free time during corona-cation. But sometimes we fail to consider an even larger impact: school. My favorite part of corona technology.

Okay, no, school is definitely not my favorite part. The lag and the glitching is insane. But, I’m not criticizing anyone here, Zoom does its job, however different it is. It genuinely is helpful to see people’s faces and have a discussion, although it’s nowhere close to actually meeting.

My point is that even with the aggressive lag and glitching from Zoom, even with the impersonality of FaceTiming, we got really lucky. Imagine this situation a hundred years ago. Fifty years ago. Twenty years ago. Ten or fifteen years ago, even. Trapped in your home, no social interaction except with your family; no Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu or other streaming service; no way to continue  learning so school continues into the summer; nothing is open and there is zero entertainment, zero distraction.

Ultimately, these devices and media are all just distracting us from this global pandemic. But that’s why they’re good.

Yes, we may be stuck at home during a pandemic, but we can still communicate and do stupid challenges. We can still have debate practices and do our chemistry. It’s a semblance of normal life, even though we trek through unprecedented, new territory. But we have to remind ourselves this is not forever. Eventually, this will be over. 

Until then, though, we will continue to live through our technology, and maybe next I’ll have to draw a beet.