The new coronavirus pandemic is upending life as we know it.
More than one-quarter of the world’s 7.8 billion people are now largely confined to their homes, as governments step up curbs on movement and social contact in a bid to contain the virus.
In many parts of the world, borders are closed, airports, hotels and businesses shut, and school cancelled. These unprecedented measures are tearing at the social fabric of some societies and disrupting many economies, resulting in mass job losses and raising the spectre of widespread hunger.
As the ‘analog world’ descends into crisis, tech firms will become even more powerful
Andrew Keen is a commentator on the digital revolution and author of five books, including How to Fix the Future. He is based in Berkeley, US.
The physical analog world is being decimated, with traditional analog businesses including hotels, restaurants and airplanes in crisis. The digital world, however, is thriving. We are surviving through this pandemic because of technology. Everyone is sitting at home, and their window to the world is through their smartphone. In the post-pandemic world, technology will be as ubiquitous as it is now, if not more, and tech companies will become even more powerful and dominant.
They are the long-term beneficiaries of this crisis; not just smaller firms like Zoom, but also the big players such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Paypal, and not just American companies, but also Chinese. Prior to this, we saw a period in which people were increasingly more cynical and critical of technology. But, as the pandemic increases our dependence on technology, people will forget that hostility towards Silicon Valley, at least in the short term.
We could also potentially see more government use of surveillance. It is a useful weapon to fight the virus – for instance, countries like Israel are using smartphones to figure out who’s been where in order to track clusters of the virus – but at the same time, such moves threaten to undermine individual freedom and privacy. This is nothing new, it only compounds and accelerates forces that have been at play for many years. Moving forward, it will affect not just our ability to hide from the camera, but also determine our socio-political rights.
Separately, this crisis will weaken an already weakened West and benefit China, as it was the first country to experience the epidemic and to get out of it. The technocratic authoritarian model in China and East Asia, such as in Singapore and to some extent South Korea – countries that are dealing more effectively with the virus – now appears more viable than the Western democratic one. And for people who care about freedom, privacy and individual rights, the world after the coronavirus looks much more worry
Less international cooperation; chaos and anarchy in fragile states
Andreas Krieg is an assistant professor at School of Security Studies at King’s College London, UK.
COVID-19 will fast-forward the fourth industrial revolution and digitalization of all services, including public services. The relationship between the community and the state will become ever more remote, whereby states are now expanding their remote control over civil society and private life. Amid COVID-19, the individual will be sufficiently pressed to surrender basic civil liberties in return for security, which alters the social contract in the liberal world.
By promising security, especially authoritarians will exploit COVID-19 as a pretext to further contract the public space and consume more powers to intervene into private lives. Digital technology makes it possible to create subtle police states whereby state control is not as obvious as it might have been as citizens might voluntarily offer private data in hope the state can provide security.
On the international level, there will be less cooperation. The trend of nationalism and self-reliance will continue, especially as the fear of the “external” and “foreign” can be exploited by populists. Most states are challenged in their resilience economically, socially and in terms of public health.
The public health crisis compounds existing domestic economic crises amid a global economic depression following the end of the COVID-19 crisis. Fragile states will be pushed into chaos and anarchy, and there is a realistic chance that some regimes will not survive COVID-19 as mass dissidence towards the end of mass mortality will bring 100,000s to the street to overthrow regimes whose legitimacy will be undermined by their inability to manage the crisis.