Throughout history, pandemics have been a paradox. On the one hand, pain, turmoil and disruption. At the same time, they have repeatedly led to massive structural changes—often in ways that have benefitted the many versus just the privileged few.
It’s very clear the poor are suffering the worst consequences in this period. Yet, we have this rare opportunity to address the systemic inequalities that have been widening the gap between the rich and the poor for generations.
In fact, if we look back to the great influenza pandemic of 1918, almost every aspect of modern medicine emerged from that period of time. Spectacularly, almost all of biology, chemistry and the understanding of modern medical systems emerged from that terrible period of human history. And yet, we benefit from that in fundamental and dramatic ways today.
I’m confident that we’re going to look back on COVID-19 a decade or two from now and see fundamental, persistent changes that have improved humanity.
Will we ever go back to the way things were before?
We are never going back to the way things were. We’ve been induced to make changes. We’ve been relying on digital infrastructure as never before. We’re changing where and how we work, how we care for the sick. We’re changing how we educate, how we communicate and live in society. No, we’re not ever going back. We’re going forward.
And as we go forward, we may lose a few things. But we’re going to gain some powerful new things, as well, because we’re going to take this pandemic and make things better.
What changes are here to stay?
Things like broadband for every community, every rural area and every child, enables us to deliver education for every human on the planet more effectively than ever. I truly believe that periods like this allow us not to see the gaps widen, but to take steps that structurally cause them to collapse.
We believe the shift in education won’t ever have us go back to the approach of the past. But we must now use it to reach and educate every student on the planet. We’re going to break down the regulatory barriers of healthcare and embrace telemedicine.
New workplace policies are allowing us to embrace a more diverse workforce than ever before. We need to start the hiring process and reaching into new communities worldwide. And new distributed workforce tools simply become part of how we work every day.
These changes are rapidly settling into society. We need governments and policies to support them. And these changes will become part of the permanent, better future for all of us.
How can digital transformation help accelerate change?
The world is now relying on digital infrastructure more than ever. The role that we as technologists play for the planet has become mission-critical for every aspect of life. Every home delivery of a grocery or a meal. Every educational class. Every minute spent remote working. Every telemedicine visit that occurs.
We are now mission-critical for society, for the planet. Never before has the role of the technologist been held up in as high esteem, but also more critical to the progress of humankind. This is our day. Carpe diem! If you’re in technology, this is the greatest opportunity of your entire career.
What lasting change can we expect?
Simply put, the lasting change of this period of time is digital transformation. In a few short weeks, we accomplished what would’ve taken decades before. Not for a business, but for all of society, for all of humanity. We truly will have leapt forward as a result of a painful pandemic that will have created persistent progress for all of us.