Lockdown and the Internet

Lockdown and the Internet

22 June - 2020 has been a tough year for the world. It was slowed everything and everyone down. Lockdown has been imposed in almost all countries and Quarantine measures are taken to socially distance from the infected and to prevent infections. When home, most of us are almost all the time, staring at a screen. But did we ever wonder what life may have been without the internet at this point?

It is safe to say that the accessibility of the internet in the times of Corona is a bane and a boon for the world. Bane, countries, companies and operations may not have survived around the world had it not been for connectivity. Boon, no other pandemic this huge has occurred ever since the dawn of the internet life and sheer panic (and quarantine) has us staying online for updates and news every second of the hour. Presently, media consumption around the world has gone up by around 70% news-watchers, and 45% increase in social media and connectivity apps. We are bound to a screen every moment in the hopes of normalcy and to create an aberration to be able to just cope.

Other than entertainment and news, many industries and sectors are continuing their work online. Almost everything is done remotely, be it official meetings, online education or even correspondence between medical institutions in times of crisis.
Khader, a daily-wage carpenter is facing issues with the lockdown and no internet other than his smartphone in a home with 5 members. Travel restrictions bar him from going to his workshop nor is he able to continue on-site operations currently. What keeps him connected to the world is his phone and online funds that keep his household running.

While we assume that our lockdown is bearable with internet facilities, many do not have access to good internet, leave alone any internet service. There are about 3.7 billion people that do not have internet access, according to the World Economic Forum. Bhutan, various rural areas in Africa and India, Chad, Somalia and many poorer countries etc are still struggling for internet connectivity and availability. Communication, education, business correspondence in such locations is negligible and in the current situation, the question arises if they are even aware or equipped for the pandemic?

Although governments and Internet service providers have leveraged and laxed internet requirements during the lockdown, many struggle to stay afloat with a halt in communication and business operations currently. Syed Husain Quadri, Division Head of Country Strategy and Market Integration at Islamic Development Bank, an associate of the World Bank for poorer countries, states that all of his project-work on these locations is done remotely, earlier which required him to travel almost every month or more. He said his work has intensively and extensively moved online but at the cost of workload. "Productivity is maximised, internet service is seamless, but the option of being connected with these poor countries is 24*7." We enquired if economic instability in these countries is hindered with lack of internet, Quadri added that "Since we have moved all our operations online, we were able to work with governments and tech companies for the provision of internet and devices to these remote places for cohesion."

Efforts to extend broadband and mobile services to the masses have increased substantially over the past few years, the governments are amping up frequencies to meet the need of the hour. Internet Service Providers and mobile companies in many countries have permitted extra time and usage and have even, in some cases, made internet free and open to use. Due to heavy internet traffic, streaming services have also lowered their membership costs, bandwidth limit has been increased by ISPs and consolidated efforts are being made in all countries by the authorities to make lockdowns easier for those who have access to it. Safa India, an organisation to aid and feed the daily wage workers in India, left jobless and payless at this time is operating all its payments and promotions online. Had there been no internet at this point, the incoming funds and the word-spread, the collection of funds may all have been difficult, if not impossible altogether. The world may not have even known about the plight of those struggling.

Staying at home has indeed helped a lot of sectors thrive at this point. E-commerce is thriving at this point. Cloud services are proving useful to businesses like Amazon Web Services (AWS) by expanding their own data centres for more efficient business services. Delivery apps, service sectors, automation services, online banking, fund transfer, online education, online shopping, startups firms, charities, social media apps, IT sector mainly, is the beneficiary in these times. Medical research and facilities are at the forefront of information-sharing at this point and to be able to communicate with other countries on the spread of the virus, regulation measures, management services are all helping the countries stay afloat on methods that could be adopted to make the situation better.

Education during Lockdown has been a bittersweet experience for parents and children. What may be a privilege to some is a challenge for the other. Parents complain of their children glued to their screens excessively and the vicious cycle of WFH, home chores, productivity, Zoom-class schedules etc have them running around in circles. Lack of internet accessibility has also hindered education during the lockdown and even though sources of information may have multiplied, and are not limited to just books, it is baseless for those who can't access to it.

When we are far beyond this, we might wonder if we would have survived it without technology and the internet. It seems like a saviour to almost those who have access to it. If you take the equation of the internet out of the picture, we are left with any other pandemic that occurred before the world connected online. Makes one wonder if people like there would have been any difference to Khader or Quadri's lives.

In conclusion, the co-dependence of the quarantined on the internet, it still makes us wonder how the world would have survived without it. Even though there are activities that involve not staring into a screen during the lockdown, the addiction of the web is making it a little more easier during this time. The internet has definitely shrunk the world and even with all the distance and isolation, we wouldn't prefer having it any other way.

Maryam Syed