There is no question that the Covid-19 virus is causing a lot of disruption in our world today. Business is asking people to work from home; Schools are closing campuses and moving to virtual classes. Sporting events are being canceled or going on without audiences and only telecasted instead.
And amid this health crisis, technology is taking a central role in helping people cope with this disruption. It makes it possible for them to work, learn, and even watch sporting events, even if they are not allowed to go to the arena where the games are played.
I am glad that at this time in history, the tech world has the technical tools in place to allow people the option to use these advanced technologies to meet these new needs, especially in times of a health crisis.
However, the idea of working, learning, and even playing in isolation is problematic in that people, by nature, are social creatures. More importantly, adapting and getting used to working from home, learning while not in a classroom, and even enjoying sporting events virtually, may not be a smooth transition for many.
I realize that people have been working from home for centuries. Yet, over the last 25 years, especially, we have seen an expansion in demand for office spaces and places where people can go to work and collaborate face-to-face. The inter-communication dynamics of working together is valuable enough that companies are spending billions on new office complexes. Companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, as well as other major companies in growing industries, continue to build new complexes to house their employees.
Major trade shows have also expanded. At the end of the last decade, CES drew about 100,000 attendees. This year they had 175,000 make the trek to Vegas for this year’s show. Three years ago, after attending CES and returning home ill and exhausted, I wrote a piece suggesting that CES should go virtual. I got some interesting comments from CES officials who said this would never happen as people like to touch, feel, and discover tech in person and that the social and networking aspect would keep them coming.
Virtual learning experiences are also challenging for many. Thanks to many online specialty learning programs, we are seeing a lot of people use these online courses to expand their knowledge base. But on-campus classes are still so valuable that college enrollment has continued to be in demand and continuing education courses that require in-class attendance is on the rise.
This winter and spring semester, I have had the privilege of going back to Stanford and taking some classes of real interest to me. While some of them gave me the option of taking them online, I purposely decided to do the on-campus courses, as I find that I learn more by sitting in the class and the interaction I have with the professors and other students. (Due to the Covid-19 virus and Stanford closing al campus classes through March, my AI class is virtual at the moment, though.) The social aspect of the learning process, at least for me, is valuable, and I suspect it is for many of any age group.
The idea of virtual play is interesting too. Gamers for years have been into multi-user games and have mastered virtual gameplay. However, the idea of holding a sporting contest with no people in attendance is a stretch. We will soon see how this works as Santa Clara County, has banned any public event that has over 100 people for the next two weeks, which means that San Jose Sharks will be forced to play their next two home games in San Jose in an empty arena.
Can you imagine an NFL game played in an empty stadium? No tailgates, no cheerleaders, and no yelling and screaming for the local team? Sports is perhaps the ultimate social experience, and technology cannot replace this experience by just moving it to a virtual event.
I do believe that we could see an upswing in people working from home and using video conferencing more aggressively for virtual meetings. But in the future, I sense that once this Covid-19 virus is conquered, we will see people go back to their offices and only use working from home on an as-needed basis. I also suspect that trade shows and developer’s conferences will be back in the future, and going strong once the threat of this virus passes.
The same goes for college and other schools that have been temporarily closed down. And sporting events will go back to normal with thousands going to arenas and stadiums.
I know that there are a lot of people who believe that this virus will cause transformational changes in the way we work, learn, and play. I do think we will learn a lot from the experience, but in the end, I think it will reinforce the fact that people are social and as disruptive as Covid-19 is at the moment, once it is in our hindsight, the social pull will bring people back to the offices, schools and sporting events and things will be back to normal again.