How COVID-19 has changed the way we approach technology

How COVID-19 has changed the way we approach technology

Nathan Waddell, Guest columnist
Published 5:00 a.m. ET Sept. 5, 2020

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From working and learning remotely to shopping, health care and socializing, expect some coronavirus pandemic changes to stick.

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  • Nathan Waddell is the director of sales for U.S. Cellular’s Mid-South territory and resides with his family in South Knoxville.

In the initial chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone had to adjust quickly to new ways of interacting with technology. The pandemic affected every area of life, from work, leisure and community involvement to parenting and school. The learning curve may have seemed steep at times, but it will have a lasting impact on how technology integrates into our daily lives.

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2. Shopping 

Turns out we didn’t need to sign those credit card receipts.

As brick-and-mortar stores closed temporarily, consumers increased online shopping for pickup or delivery options, discovering the convenience and ease of e-commerce. By early April, the Walmart Grocery app hit an all-time high in downloads (460% growth in average daily downloads) and stood atop all U.S. shopping apps for two days.

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A prototype of KaTom’s touchless mist hand sanitizer at PostModern Spirits in the Old City in Knoxville, Tenn. on Monday, May 4, 2020. Restaurant supply company KaTom purchased hand sanitizer in bulk and has temporarily hired laid off PostModern Spirits employees to bottle it. (Photo: Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel)

If you ventured inside a store, you likely saw hurried implementation of touchless access controls, devices and payments to reduce high-contact scenarios that could spread germs.

3. Health

As gyms closed and health care facilities turned to a model that supported only medically necessary services, providers and patients had to adjust.

Gym chain Planet Fitness beefed up content on its mobile app and used social media to share daily videos of “work-ins” that anyone could access. Gyms, groups and fitness influencers used social media and websites to share unprecedented access to their routines.

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Telehealth appointments via video chat or phone had been encouraged by insurance companies to save costs but weren’t widely offered. When COVID-19 hit, telehealth became a necessity and will have lasting effects on the accessibility and convenience of health care.

4. Leisure and social connection

Social distancing made us feel unconnected, but technology changed that. Groups quickly began gathering on video chat platforms to play games, celebrate milestones or just visit.

COVID-19 not only changed the amount of media we consume, but also how we consume it. Streaming services, connected televisions and mobile devices all recorded spikes during the pandemic. We learned we could still stay connected, even when we are not physically together.

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5. Education 

While technology is integrated in education, the sudden change to remote learning jolted the system. The learning curve was steep for parents and students alike. Apps for everything from gamification of homework to step-by-step math tutorials suddenly became a necessity rather than extracurricular.

The use of distance learning also showed opportunities for improvement. School boards began rolling out access to tablets and online classes in areas previously underserved, a positive and permanent side effect.

6. Online services 

Seemingly overnight, new services emerged and existing services rolled out new offerings, such as repurposing software platforms to host virtual events, delivering packages of ingredients to go with an online cocktail class, or shipping yard signs for drive-by parties. But the increase in services also meant internet providers had to pivot.

U.S. Cellular watched voice calls spike after years of decline, along with an increase in texting and data traffic. The company’s network was built with extra capacity to manage expected and unexpected increases in usage. U.S. Cellular also recorded higher demand for video calling, likely due to business and educational users.

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Before this pandemic, we hesitated to reveal the unedited version of ourselves, our homes and our careers. But technology brought us into each other’s homes more than ever and reminded us that it’s OK to be our authentic selves.

Difficult times can be learning experiences, and we saw how mobile technology can enhance everyday life and create opportunities for us to live in the moment, enjoy the camaraderie of friends and family – and, yes, be productive from home.

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As we emerge from the initial effects of a global pandemic, we are more comfortable with technology and how it is integrated into home, work and play. The effects of a paradigm change will continue, but when everything changed, we were better prepared than we thought. 

Nathan Waddell is the director of sales for U.S. Cellular’s Mid-South territory and resides with his family in South Knoxville.

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