That is why it is so important that everyone – especially the elderly, students and people in low-income communities – have access to these tools. The digital divide is real and in the coming months those without internet access or devices that can run newer software will be excluded from many of the digital communities we are building to support each other.
In addition to other economic bailouts, it might be time for some kind of global geek squad, an army of tech-savvy people who can deliver free or heavily discounted equipment to people they don’t have and who can teach (from a safe distance) how You can participate in zoom conferences, send and receive text messages and make FaceTime calls.
I called recently Jaron Lanier, the author and technologist who coined the term “virtual reality”. Mr. Lanier, who has been experimenting with building virtual communities for years, said he understood why the idea of putting our offline institutions online was uncomfortable for some people.
“We have seen the internet transform into this strange, dark manipulation machine,” he said. “Of course we are concerned that this could be another way to get lost or go crazy.”
But he also said that there is reason to be cautiously optimistic about the creative opportunities people are already finding to put their real support systems online.
“The obvious thing to say about the corona virus,” said Lanier, “is that people will feel isolated.” But there could be some good things. It could reintroduce people into their families. It could make people a little bit more grounded. It helps you reassess the wealth that we have in a place like a home. It is a kind of revelation that we are lucky enough to be able to do this at all. “
Mr. Lanier is right. As the virus forces us indoors, we should consider how we can invest in our digital spaces and build robust virtual connections that can replace part of the physical proximity we lose and mobilize to support our real communities Time of enormous need.
We can use technology to address this crisis instead of just distracting ourselves from it.