The global-scale lockdown due to COVID-19 has been the most significant test of the Internet so far. For many people, their portable Internet devices became the main pathway to work, education, and even social connections. While this unprecedented scenario has led to many technical and psychological challenges, it is also indicative of some aspects of human nature. In this article, we’ll look at how the pandemic has changed our Internet usage patterns and what it tells us about ourselves.
With the Internet being the chief communication channel for pretty much everything during the lockdown, there is little wonder it came under unprecedented load in the recent months.
The amount of traffic has indeed increased by more than 30% across the world. Italy, which had some of the strictest lockdown policies, saw a 109% increase, with the largest surges corresponding to stay-at-home announcements. However, the most interesting bit is that the system seems to have endured — the drop in download speeds were nowhere near as dramatic, with around 35% in Italy and roughly 15% elsewhere. In other words, modern infrastructure is scalable enough to stand up to such challenges.
Work and Education
Professional and educational activities are perhaps the two domains that felt the effects of the outbreak the most. According to UNESCO’s report, more than half of the learners around the world were hit by the lockdown, and nearly all of the affected education systems opted for digital remote policies as a primary response. However, remote learning is not exactly a groundbreaking concept, so in this case, the COVID-19 was more of a catalyst than a game-changer.
The same goes for employment: as you might expect, the lockdown has boosted the use of remote work tools and systems, although the adoption has been far from universal. Many companies were not equipped for remote work, and some business models just couldn’t transition to online mode. Still, on average, the number of workers who can work remotely is rising steadily, reshaping the expectations in this domain.
The Internet has been the main source of having fun long before the pandemic. In fact, the public’s preferences had been so evident that some trends involving the migration to digital-first services have even got themselves a name. In this light, there’s little wonder that the use of Internet-based services has surged. However, an in-depth look reveals an interesting tendency within this phenomenon. While the traffic of platforms like Facebook, Youtube, and Netflix went way up, the usage of respective mobile apps plummeted. This actually goes against the long-running trend of preferring smartphones over desktops. When you think of it, this actually makes sense: as long as you are stranded in your apartment, there’s no reason to use a smaller screen.
The biggest downside of social distancing is the deficit of socialization. Humans are social creatures and have a hard time coping with loneliness and isolation — something social media platforms have been using to their advantage for quite some time now. What this means is no matter how much communication we do through text messages, we still feel disconnected.
In the absence of visual contact, texting alone just doesn’t cut it — it’s too abstract. For this reason, the services with a visual and spatial component, like videoconferencing tools and proximity-based social networks, are making a comeback. Simply put, we are relying on the Internet to fulfill our evolutionary cravings.
In the end, the Internet is just a tool, albeit an incredibly sophisticated and advanced one. It capable of many things, so humans come up with many applications for it. Most of these applications, such as remote learning and work, predate the Internet itself, so in a sense, the COVID-19 outbreak doesn’t change a whole lot. Perhaps the most noteworthy change is our attempts to socialize online, which probably reveals more about us than about the technology at work.