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The year virtually everything went online

WhatsApp Image 2021-03-01 at 11.18.10

2020 was a year like no other and 2021 proves this.

For many middle-class Ghanaian families, a typical day right now may look something like this: Roll out of bed and check the smartphone. Open up a laptop and set up an online education portal for children out of school. Check in with a doctor through a telemedicine portal. Read news on Twitter and news platforms. Buy groceries through Di Dwa Online. Watch stories on Instagram. Binge on Netflix. Connect with work colleagues or a group of friends on a Zoom video call.

What passes for normal life now happens almost entirely online.

The coronavirus pandemic is unlike any other global emergency in recent history. Millions of people around the world are restricted to their homes with no definite idea of when they will be able to resume life as they knew it. Staying home has become a public health precaution and people have resorted to such to keep safe and sane.

The major question will be whether “normal life” as we knew it pre-COVID-19 would ever return.

Historians argue that essentially these kinds of global emergencies accelerate trends that already exist in our society.

We’ve already seen how the internet is impinging all kinds of activities in terms of work, leisure and so forth, and the COVID-19 pandemic has simply aggravated it.

The internet has in recent decades become embedded in almost everything (try to find a product for which there’s not an internet-connected version). But it was primarily used to augment daily life for most people. Some younger people referred to themselves as “netizens,” but for most it wasn’t the centre of their lives.

In recent times almost all working-class Ghanaians are extremely online. Data from internet services show massive increases in daily use. Assurances from internet service providers and infrastructure companies that they are able to handle so much of life’s moving online have become closely followed.

In an emergency, technology can be fast-tracked. What is expected is a boost of research into technologies use for everyday life including online education and distributed computing.

This kind of shift from offline to online doesn’t happen without some pain points. People are finding they need to set limits, that their connection to technology can’t be constant all day, every day, or else their brains won’t get a chance to rest. Mental health issues have also come into play as there is increased anxiety around the pandemic.
The shift may also have exacerbated inequality. The pandemic has indeed revealed the reality of digital inequality highlighting that, now, more than ever, urgent action is needed. Same can be said of the inequalities that exist in healthcare delivery between the rich and poor (this will be a conversation for another time).

Now industry and regulators just need to be sure that internet service remains running and less pricey at a level near what people expect.

For us, the internet was built for this.