COVID-19 is the worst pandemic in history in 90 years. Half of the world’s population is still offline and digitally unskilled. The Covid-19 has ushered in a new inevitable Tech Era. An overnight digital change was observed worldwide. The concept of working-from-home penetrated knee-deep globally.
It is a new world, the digitized world. Prior to the pandemic internet was used almost by 40% and post-pandemic, it has jumped over 100%. The pandemic has done what might have taken decades to digitalize the world.
Video conference and content delivery services have observed a boost. Zoom has a 10% while Akamai has a 30% increase. Many online services have a 100% increase. Before the pandemic, only a fraction of the global workforce was occasionally working from home.
The EU had roughly 30% or more in Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden to 10 % or less in the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, and Poland. Up to 20 % of the workforce in the USA was regularly or occasionally working from alternative locations, 16 % in Japan, and just 1.6 % in Argentina.
At the global level, the International Labour Organization estimates that 7.9 % of the world’s workforce, approximately 260 million workers worked from home on a permanent basis before the pandemic.
With the COVID-19, Argentina adopted a teleworking policy of up to 93 %. Home-based work potential to be from 24 to 31 % in different European countries and 34 % for the United States.
However, this shift to teleworking has not yet reached most in poor countries. Only 29% of Africans and 19 % in poor countries were using the Internet in 2019, compared with over 80% Europeans.
The digitalizing world during this pandemic is also facing the demerits of the sudden digital surge. Online fraud, scams, intrusions, and security breaches are becoming common. Cyber fraudsters are exploiting the masses in crisis by wangling money and information.
The extensive digital dependents have been severely inflicted by the digital wave. The fraudsters have an upper hand in this cyber corruption as they are much organized. There is a lack of control and monitoring regarding abrupt widespread global connectivity.
Read more: Covid-19 breeds cybercrimes
The prevailing situation is a golden chance for security-providing firms. This digital surge due to the pandemic has yawned open the digital divide globally. It is inflecting the developing countries much more than the developed countries. The off-liners have become outcasts.
The post-pandemic period will further widen the societal disparities. There is a great chance of digital money in the post-pandemic era. The digital tycoons succeeded in spreading the fear of viruses via notes and coins.
As much as the digital wave is spreading, there is fear of privacy depravity and surveillance insecurity. The danger of digital intrusion in online conferences, classes, meetings, programs, and other functions cannot be avoided. Making a digital breach is easier than a physical breach.
The digital divide impacting all
Historically, digital technologies have surpassed other innovations. It will pave the way to distance and virtual learning. The pace of connectivity is slower in poor countries. Worldwide, female internet users are 12% less than men.
During 2013-17 this gap narrowed in poor regions and widened in the least developed regions from 30% to 33%. Traditionally, technological revolutions have changed the labor force.
This current digital wave is likely to have profound impacts. More than 800 million people are anticipated to lose their jobs to automation by 2030. We are bound to realign our goals targeting soft skill learning as well as re-skill them.
The digital wave has affected the youth to a great extent. 188 countries imposed countrywide educational closures during the pandemic, affecting more than 1.6 billion children and youth. The pandemic has increased existing educational inequalities in the world.
According to UNICEF, at least 463 million children globally were unable to access remote learning when COVID-19 started. Universally, 58% of school-age children from the richest families have internet access compared to only 16% from the poorest families.
In Pakistan, around 40 million children are affected by COVID-19 educational closures forcing students to rely on virtual learning. For those with no internet access, education can be out of reach.
Other risks due to digital surge
Personal data and information ownership have been jeopardized by the digital surge during the pandemic. Almost more than half of the world’s population is connected through social media. It has become a source of information warfare.
Global cyberspace can establish a digital Berlin Wall. The digital divide may further risk sustainable and inclusive development. This digital wave will surely affect the social and economic behavior of the people during the crisis in response to lockdowns and the need for social distancing.
The pandemic and digital surge both have changed the concept of work. Digital technologies had made work more task-based, ever-present, and virtually nonstop. The trend will accelerate in the post-pandemic period.
Another challenge is the risk of disinformation. It is harmful to people’s physical and mental health which is creating hurdles in coping with the pandemic. Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others signed the EU self-regulatory code of practice on disinformation in 2018. Microsoft and TikTok joined later.
In 2020, the European Commission demanded monthly reports to limit covid-19 disinformation. Google blocked, removed, and suspended millions of accounts in this regard in 2020.
Microsoft rejected 3,871,425 covid-19 submissions globally in 2020. Twitter removed 4,000 tweets and challenged 2.5 million accounts. Facebook displayed propagating caution screens and fact-checks on over 4.1 million.
Despite all, additional action is needed to combat dis and misinformation. A joint survey by the World Bank found that, during the first half of 2020, transaction volumes had increased in almost all areas of tech compared to 2019. Digital payment volumes grew by 21%.
The speedy boost may also increase the vulnerability to cyber-attacks and digital fraud. It is tolling an alarm bell for financial integrity and stability. It can further lead to money laundering, especially if there is no universal official digital identity system.
There is also a risk of increased market meditation, as big techs can gulp up smaller providers during the pandemic crisis.
The writer is an English Professor and freelance columnist, based in Lahore, Pakistan. He can be reached at Prof.abdulshakoorsyed@gmail.