Aoife Rooney examines the successes and failures of technology throughout the pandemic, and asks whether it still has a place in a post-pandemic world.
Technology has become an extension of the self over the past decade or so - the ease and convenience it provides uncontested in its ability to improve our daily lives. Along with the integration of something as universally integral to people's lives as technology, so too came eventual discussions over effects of prolonged exposure. Beyond being told that too much TV turns children's eyes into television shaped rectangles, there are legitimate reasons to limit the amount of time people spend in front of at least one screen. The popularisation of social media has only strengthened the argument for switching off devices every now and then.
When the pandemic alerted people to the fact that they would be continuing work and education remotely, our devices not only became the most valuable things people owned, but saw us investing in more ways to prolong our collective screen time beyond the college and work day. Over the course of the past 18 months, there has been mass investment in technology in the home. From a work perspective, people have been putting money back into their work and education technology, in an attempt to make the experience as productive and streamlined as possible. This includes the purchasing of a second screen, wireless mice and keyboards, tablets and audio gear to name a few. It also saw the popularisation of technology to combat much of the boredom and isolation associated with the pandemic. The Nintendo Switch saw a growth in sales, by many who ordinarily would not justify the purchase, but having time in the evenings to divert to a hand-held device to break up the monotony of television or streaming options meant that many purchased devices that are now been thrown to one side as things begin to reopen.
“Beyond being told that too much TV turns children's eyes into television shaped rectangles, there are legitimate reasons to limit the amount of time people spend in front of at least one screen”
One of the biggest challenges people cited as a direct result of working remotely was loneliness - it wasnt that people were not able to do their work efficiently, or submit essays on time, it was more often than not the broken social connections. Social media has an integral role to play in circumventing some of this loneliness. TikTok utilised every opportunity the pandemic afforded it, and has seen exponential growth over the past almost two years. Historically, the app was used primarily by teens, but since its widespread popularisation, 20-29 year olds hold a 26% stake in the total users of the application. Not only is the appeal of the platform changing to cater to a widened age group, it is now more than ever satisfying the needs of the largest number of users the app has seen since its release in 2013. Of 15-25 year olds, 10% were using the app pre Covid-19. This number almost tripled to 28% during the height of restrictions. Unlike the Nintendo Switch, people have stuck with the platform as its numbers continually grow.
Unlike TikTok, many resources that students and workers availed of while confined to their homes seemingly have little use moving forward. Zoom was an essential for anyone over the course of the pandemic, especially so for students who were completing degrees virtually. While there were many issues, students, myself included, would argue that despite the lack of a social outlet, and depending on what course one is studying, there was a unique opportunity to excel in your studies. Despite the fact that lecturers and tutors had to adapt and learn how to teach online in real-time, students were receiving relatively similar content than if it had been in person. It works significantly better for large group lectures than it does for smaller tutorials or seminars, but if a student can be self-motivated enough, it is entirely possible to do well and succeed.
“Over the course of the past 18 months, there has been mass investment in technology in the home. From a work perspective, people have been putting money back into their work and education technology, in an attempt to make the experience as productive and streamlined as possible”
The problem lies within the question of whether or not the quality of education is to the same standard. Lecture slides are the same, as are the exam papers and essay questions, but there is a clear distinction in the learning experience, despite the best efforts of many faculty members.
The argument for keeping remote learning as an option should be no contest: if some students feel they perform better, or are more comfortable doing the majority of their degree from home, it should be a welcomed alternative by the University. The main problems UCD could foresee with offering this as an option would be the financial losses. Even if students were happy paying for fees despite not being on campus, on campus accommodation would suffer, especially if international cohorts opted to remain in their home countries for those studying degrees with fewer practical elements.
Lecture halls are being equipped with technology to carry out virtual lectures, but faculty will not be made to use them under capacities of 250 students. While they are within their rights to do so, it leaves students who wish to continue to learn online with no option but to attend in-person. As of this week, a UCD student can delete the Zoom application on their laptops - they no longer need it. Despite this, I believe there is still very much a place for Zoom and other virtual meeting applications. It may be a while before job interviews or office-wide meetings take place in person, with many offices making further investments in their ability to go completely online if need be. It is for this reason many businesses with Dublin city branches have ended leases in a bid to save money, and allow workers to dial in from wherever they live.
The issue of how to merge how we used to work with how we have had to for the duration of Covid-19 is one that is unique to each person. Some people thrive being around others constantly and would have struggled in restrictive settings where their social needs were not being met. Others are happy to create productive working environments from home, the ever-closing gap on work/life balance not a concern for them. For many, it will be a good sign of how things are changing when they are no longer receiving links to join online meetings and lectures, but for another cohort of people, it will undoubtedly bring a sense of discomfort, the thought of being thrown back into society before they’re ready an abrupt end to an enjoyable time at home.