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Microbes and Motherboards: How technology is improving our lives under lockdown

Lockdown has made us have to rethink how we live our lives.

Lockdown
Credit: Pixabay

How are you holding up? Are you well? Are you managing to stay productive, positive, healthy and active under lockdown. If the answer to all of these is “yes” congratulations, you’re doing far better than most! But if the answer to any (or all) of the above is no, don’t beat yourself up about it. We’re living through a moment in history. An international pandemic the like of which has never been seen in living memory. Not since the Second World War have we had to make such huge and sweeping changes to our lifestyle for the sake of the greater good. So if you’re not firing on all cylinders every day, it’s perfectly understandable.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown have taken a toll on us all in a number of ways. They have caused us to live insular lives with far less human contact than we may be used to. They have made drastic changes to the way in which most of us work, or indeed our ability to work. Many of us have become depressed, lethargic and disoriented. We may feel hopeless and pessimistic. Especially when our governments respond to the pandemic in questionable ways that cost the lives of people who they are expected to protect. Still, as challenging as the lockdown has been, can you imagine how much more difficult it would be without technology? Technologies, particularly digital technologies, have helped us to stay informed and educated. They have allowed us to cling to a few scant crumbs of “normality” in a world that feels at times to be falling apart.

Here we’ll look at, and celebrate, the role that technology plays in improving our lives under lockdown. But first, we owe it to ourselves to discuss…

The caveats

While our relationship with technology can help us through this troublesome time, we need to exercise diligence to ensure that it remains healthy. No, I don’t mean making sure you don’t fall in love with your operating system. I mean making sure that you don’t drown yourself in a non-stop deluge of news. Yes, it’s great that we can keep ourselves informed as the situation develops, but there is such a thing as too much news.

The same goes for our entertainment. It’s amazing that we have streaming services that give us access to vast libraries of content which could see us through a dozen lockdowns. But if we spend hour after hour with our eyes glued to one screen or another, it’s going to affect us in a number of ways, from ruining our posture to preventing us from getting a good night’s sleep.

Technology affords us amazing opportunities, but it also carries inherent risks. It’s up to us to ensure that our relationship with our tech is healthy so that we can enjoy better living through technology rather than enslaving ourselves to it.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at how technology is making our lives better in this uncertain and scary moment in history.

It’s ensuring that while we’re isolated we’re not alone

We may understand that self-isolation is the key to containing the coronavirus. But that doesn’t make the “isolation” part any easier. Especially when we’re separated from parents, siblings, friends and lovers.

Our relationships with others form a huge part of our psychological infrastructure. While we can maintain good mental health in solitude, it’s much more difficult and our perceptions can become warped. Friends and family keep us grounded, give us praise and adulation when we need it while giving us constructive criticism when we need that too.

Fortunately, we have more means than ever to stay in touch with the people who matter to us via our smartphones. Between video chat, all kinds of messaging, voice notes and good old fashioned phone calls we can see a friendly face and hear a familiar voice whenever we need to. Now if we could only digitise hugs!

It’s helping us to work from home securely

Digital technology has proven a lifeline for businesses, enabling them to maintain their operations while their employees work from home. Not only is remote working viable for businesses, it can be advantageous in many ways, lowering overhead expenses and improving their environmental footprint. Still, with remote work comes a specific set of risks, most of them security-related.

The unfortunate truth is that opportunistic cyber criminals are (even as you read this) striving to find ways to exploit the global pandemic for their own personal gain. Fortunately, technology has made it easier for businesses to bolster their cybersecurity even with their workforces engaged remotely. Cloud based operations, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and employee vigilance (like knowing how to spot a phishing email) can all contribute enormously to secure remote working. So companies can take care of business, while also doing right by their employees.

It’s helping us to engage with our creative side

One of the few genuinely beautiful things to emerge from the pandemic and lockdown is the extent to which people have engaged with their creative sides. While there are many who have dusted the cobwebs off their art supplies and started their potter’s wheels spinning again, there are many who are using digital technologies not just to create but to share and distribute their work, either as a means of making money or simply for the joy of creating.

People are teaching themselves to be filmmakers, YouTubers, Twitch streamers, graphic designers and digital illustrators armed with their smartphones and tablets. They’re investing in cool drone technologies like the Mavic Air 2 to get once in a lifetime swooping tracking shots of virtually deserted major cities that were (until recently) thriving hubs. Speaking of drones, there are many inventive ways in which people are employing them under lockdown beyond the creative- such as checking in with loved ones and identifying neighbours who are not doing their part in social distancing.

As we see people in our social circle setting up Etsy accounts, blogs and all kinds of artistic endeavours, we’re reminded of the transformative power of creativity. It makes us come alive, and despite what we may tell ourselves, everyone is creative in one way or another. Creativity can give us a renewed sense of purpose and prevent us from measuring our value solely in terms of our jobs, our careers or our income. And while you certainly don’t need technology to be creative, it’s certainly helped more people than ever to find their creative voice as well as their audience online.

Lockdown

Credit: Pixabay

It’s making us more accountable for our health

Another potential blessing caused by the pandemic is the extent to which it’s getting us all to think a little harder about our health. As well as being mindful of what we touch, how far away we stay from people we know when outside and how often we wash our hands, we’re also thinking about our health in more holistic ways. At a time when we see news of suffering and death, we’re realising what a precious gift our own health is.

There are lots of technologies that can make us more accountable for our health. We have diet apps like My Fitness Pal which allow us to track our calories and macronutrients. We have all kinds of wearables which can track our heart rates, how many steps we’re taking or how much sleep we’re getting. Through the internet we have access to all kinds of healthy recipes. With access to fast food and processed convenience foods harder to come by, we’re spending more time in the kitchen, cooking more from scratch and getting a lot more wholefoods into our diets. We’re finding inventive ways to work out from home, liaising with personal trainers online or watching yoga videos on YouTube.

Could we have done all of this without technology? Sure. But technology has made it easier to take that difficult first step and make ourselves accountable for our own health and fitness so that we don’t lose motivation or momentum.

It’s facilitating contact tracing

Finally, aside from all the wondrous technologies at work right now trying to find viable treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus, digital technologies are also helping countries around the world to mitigate the spread of the condition.

One of the most potentially promising of these is contact tracing. Contact tracing is already in use in sexual health clinics helping people to identify when they have caught a sexually transmitted infection and alerting previous partners. With contact tracing technologies, users can potentially identify people who may have come into contact with infected parties and sending them an automated notification advising them to self-isolate. It has been used successfully in countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany and South Korea. Of course, like any technology it needs to be employed carefully and there are many who (quite rightly) raise concerns about data protection and privacy issues. Nonetheless, this is technology that certainly has the potential to save lives, and will likely play a large part in helping world governments to relax lockdown measures and mitigate the spread of infection.

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