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Post-COVID-19 Trends: Digital Loneliness and Increased Automation

The coronavirus pandemic has expedited the growth and building of some new businesses and is changing behaviour.

Updated
Tech and Auto
5 min read
A lonely passenger stands on the Deak ter metro station in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, March 19, 2020. Due to the coronavirus epidemic, the number of travelers on public transport routes has dropped significantly
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I’ve been having my fair share of discussions around this, reading other perspectives, and more. Bored of boredom, working from home (twiddling my thumbs), I thought I’d pen down my thoughts on the matter — in part if nothing else to see how this post ages.

I believe this pandemic will also have expedited the growth and building of businesses around:

Click here for live updates on COVID-19. Also visit Quint Fit for comprehensive coverage on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Solving for Digital Loneliness — Digitally

While a lot has been said about social media and digital platforms leading to deep loneliness — with a forced hiatus from IRL interactions with other humans, I feel the time is right for digital solutions to loneliness to get traction.

Right from AI companions, to mental health apps (Wysa), interesting remote-work solutions (shoutout: Tandem) and more.

While online entertainment and gaming are surging ahead — solutions that make these shared experience will become increasingly commonplace. While Twitch and MMORPG already exist and are being used such — this chrome plugin for shared Netflix watching was interesting.

IRL + Social Activities Becoming Digitally Social and/or Individual

Activities that are social in the physical world today, increasingly moving to a digital experience — and continuing to be social or becoming individual.

Fitness. Across workouts in a gym moving to online live video classes (CultFit), or apps that closely mimic the personal trainer experience (Freeletics). And the Peloton was a good gift now, wasn’t it, in hindsight (I kid!).

Education. The emergence and adoption of digital classrooms rapidly increasing in pace, as well as individualised learning, in a one-on-one context outside of a classroom. This use case has way too many examples to even start quoting them, and I’m sure you’ve heard of how kids revolted against this in China by downvoting a remote learning app to a 1* rating on AppStore (trying to get it de-listed).

Hanging out. From ‘hanging out’ to happy hours, to birthday parties and Demo Days , to a lot more all done on Zoom, Facetime, Google Hangouts and what not, fun, social gatherings done digitally bound to become more commonplace. These two NYT articles do a great job of walking through it. Article 1, Article 2. Conferences, otherwise quite the waste of resources with a high carbon footprint, can now look at being done digitally on platforms like Airmeet.

Museums / Tours / Tourism. Through AR/VR expect a lot more experiences to move to digital platforms, thereby also increasing their accessibility. More on that here

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Biotechnology

From understanding the pathology of the virus to custom designing a vaccine/cure, to 3D printing of said cures and vaccines through synthetic genes and what not — the ways in which advances in biotechnology can help avoid a pandemic are numerous. COVID-19 makes it evident we’re still (if not increasingly so) a world susceptible to a pandemic, thus being an impetus in interest and advances in biotech.

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Automation + Solutions to Reduce Contact

A lot (most?) of this tech already exists — we’re likely to see its adoption and usage increase manifold, and across use cases — with the objective of bringing purely technology-based automation to tasks, and to solve for reducing contact. Some of this will overlap with added convenience for users — albeit incremental at best.

Right from speech and proximity inputs instead of physical contact based inputs (car doors opening, elevators taking audio inputs, lighters at airport smoking rooms), to drone delivery, DocuSign-esque solutions to manage paperwork, digital and contactless payment mechanisms (commonplace enough in India — not so much in the global landscape), remote and virtual assistants, etc. etc.

App-based medical consultations are going to become increasingly popular as people slowly understand that the mere act of going to see a doctor will often get you sick even if you weren’t to begin with.
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Open Source

One can only hope that this event makes it all the more evident why we need to have an open source and collaborative means of working as more the norm than the exception, across contexts, globally.

PS. Wardley Maps are a good tool to read about and understand in this context. Quite powerful in helping think through how an industry and value chain could evolve.

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3D Printing

As supply chains are affected, across the globe and categories, some critical to survival, 3D printing will be seen as an effective and affordable (?) way to solve these challenges. While it may be adopted for shorter-term constraints and reasons — that very adoption I warrant will make its benefits more apparent in the economy leading to quicker adoption.

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Video Conferencing Auxiliaries

Obviously, video conferencing in every form is on the uptick. Supporting technologies around this, I believe will rapidly advance as well. Real-time transcription, translation, Filters for any video conferencing tool, analysis of emotional health for employers and more, video analytics, automated indexing (‘I know we discussed this on the Zoom call, but just where and what did we finalise?’) …. [Shoutout to VideoKen]

Cultural and behavioural changes I expect (and hope) that catch on.

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Trust and Empathy as a foundational layer

In all of this — I believe we will have learnt to trust each other a little more. Employers learning to trust employees more, with remote and work from home policies; to people trust each other to self-quarantine, be respectful of social distance and hygiene and more — I’m looking forward to a world wherein we trust each other a little more, across contexts.

Along with this, we are already seeing a deep sense of empathy for others awaken amongst us. Whether we’re thinking about how we can support house-helpers, delivery personnel, daily wage earners and local businesses, or as working from home helps us better understand what our primary school teachers go through while we’re at work, and more.

While this happens, what will also become evident are bad players who aren’t operating from a point of trust and empathy, and will eventually lose the faith, love, and loyalty of those around them in whatever form. For workplaces where HR was still operating in the old school HR management style, they will increasingly see a need to transform into a Chief People’s Officer, and a People’s Happiness team.

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Environmental Consciousness

With the ‘break’ from us, that nature is having — and is making the best of
News from the Venetian canals being clear, full of fish, swans and even dolphins, Dolphins returning to the ports of Calgari, shorelines and ports the world over, pollution decreasing massively (and here), I hope there are enough of us that come to realise and believe that the smallest of steps, taken by enough people have the power to make a tangible difference. And that this is most definitely in our locus of control.
That enough of us start demanding and asking better of our corporations and our governments.

To add, of course — the broken window theory — with nature having for the time to repair some of the damage we’ve cause — I hope it deters and slows enough of us from too rapidly going down the same path again.

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(Abhishek Agarwal, is currently the Director of Strategy at Ninjacart. An active member of the startup ecosystem, he’s also a partner OperatorVC an angel fund he founded. Before this, he founded Bold Kiln, a solution provider for Startups and was a strategy consultant with Monitor Group for 5 years. He’s an IIM-Ahmedabad, IIT-Delhi alumnus. You can follow him on Twitter @AbhiHiSahi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This post first appeared on Medium and has been republished with permission.)

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