TRIBUNE 25 March 2020
The coronavirus is an exogenous shock to the global economy, causing panic in the financial markets, a jobs apocalypse and an unprecedented crisis in health services. At the same time, the necessary safety measures are challenging the very nature of work and human sociality. Social distancing and lockdowns have been implemented around the world and in many countries, enforced by the state with a militaristic strictness. While Boris Johnson waxes Churchillian indulging in his “wartime” fantasy, the UK is facing a social catastrophe that goes beyond the economy. In the short term, there will be serious losses throughout many industries as many of their clients scale down or go bankrupt and we enter a recession. But in the long-term, we will see changes in the nature of work and human sociality that seem closer to the brave new worlds of science fiction than our pre-coronavirus reality. The tech giants are likely celebrating and the key to their success will be our quarantine. A different world will emerge as the economy recovers, a world where technology mediates a far greater proportion of our lives than any Silicon Valley ideologue could have dreamed was possible previously.
While profiting from a crisis is par for the capitalist course, the particular way that tech companies are benefiting from the pandemic has much broader social implications than simply paying dividends. While McLuhan’s Global Village has been a reality for some time now, he could not have anticipated the scale and scope of the technological deepening that is occurring. As Wayne Kurtzman, an analyst at tech research firm IDC has said, “this may have jump-started the market by seven years.” The imperative of the crisis to work from home and socially isolate “is a perfect opportunity for companies to become the digital businesses they have wanted to be,” Kurtzman added. This is ghoulish capitalist realism of the highest order. And yet this is a point we all must take very seriously – coronavirus is the shock that the tech sector needed to complete the silicon revolution.
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