Internet in the Age of COVID

Apr 18 2020 Published by under Our World, Pandemic

Where would we be without the Internet?

Just over 2 months ago, the current pandemic and the resulting changes to our way of life were unthinkable.

An inconceivable concept during previous pandemics that is now taken for granted is the Internet. Everything about life in the twenty-first century that it brought us that we take for granted – instantaneous mass communication, digitalization of all the accumulated knowledge of the world, information overflow, social media, and real-time global collaboration – none of this existed during any previous pandemic situation.

During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, the telegraph and print dominated mass communication media. Broadcast radio was only on the cusp of being adopted by the masses. Can you imagine watching widespread illness and death unfold around you while news of understanding it and fighting it followed slowly after? That lag time in not knowing what is going on is inconceivable to us today. That is in addition to the lag time doctors and scientists endured in their efforts to collaborate and come into consensus about what is happening and how to fight the pandemic.

How about the Black Death pandemic of 1348? Not much media to speak of. Information spread at a speed too slow for a citizen of today’s world to grasp. If it spread at all. The dearth of communication contributed to the failure to understand and fight the pandemic. This resulted in mass horror, panic, and despair following in its wake for years. And that plague recurred every couple of decades for 300 years after its initial outbreak.

The telegraph and telephone could transmit information rapidly from point to point, but the time it took for that information to be transcribed, set in type, printed, and then distributed to the masses meant that there was still a lag between news happening and then being communicated to the masses. Understanding the virus, and then planning and deploying a response also were limited by the speed and distribution capability of the mass media of the time. All these lags accumulate throughout the communication process and to make fighting a pandemic even more of a Sisyphean effort.

If we did not have the Internet, I think our society would have collapsed a lot harder with more negative effects and even worse fear, uncertainty, and doubt than we endure now. It is doubtful the collective effort to recover and rebound as a society would be as strong as our current effort. Even in the face of governmental and corporate errors, the Internet is a medium that empowers, enabling understanding, communication, and a strong united response to the pandemic.

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