What would the Covid-19 pandemic be like without internet?

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The coronavirus is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge faced by humanity since World War Two. It has disrupted world trade, hindered socio-economic development, contributed to poverty while upending lives. As the on-going crisis unfolds, people are losing jobs every day with no way of knowing when “normality” will return. On the other hand, there has been a significant reduction in carbon emissions, over-due appreciation of health-care workers, delivery executives, staff, etc. Hence, the current crisis is bringing out the best and the worst of humanity

Stuck at home during the pandemic, with schools, offices, movie theatres closed and no restaurants to dine in, people have been spending more of their lives online. Coronavirus has exposed the digital divide like never before. According to Cloudflare, internet usage has rocketed up 25% in major cities between January and late-June. Access to the Internet and technology can be a lifesaver for people around the world. It would be almost impossible to imagine the pandemic without the internet. The following are the pros and cons of the absence of the internet during the pandemic.

Pros-

1.  No spread of misinformation- Levels of fear and panic are already higher during times of crisis. One of the downsides to the internet is the spread of false information, unnecessary panic, and irrational behavior like panic buying and hoarding of toilet paper and other commodities. News, tweets, WhatsApp messages showing empty shelves go more viral than fully stocked shelves. It distorts our perception of what is actually happening around the world. All this can be avoided in the absence of the internet.

2.   Mental Health- The new “normal” is unsettling. Despite models and predictions by epidemiologists and global health experts, nobody is certain about the future. The statistics of increasing number of cases and fatalities can take a serious toll on mental health. Without the internet, one can stay disconnected to the outside world and avoid high levels of uncertainty regarding the future and rise in the level of stress, anxiety, and depression.

3.  Addiction- Being confined to four walls for months during the lockdown can lead to a general decrease in psychological well-being. The Internet can be used as a coping mechanism to alleviate depressed mood. However, too much of anything isn’t good. Studies show that internet addiction can affect health, productivity and relationships. Experts say that internet addiction has more or less the same troubling effects as gambling or substance abuse. In some cases, it can lead to depression, anxiety, impulse control problem, etc. Without the Internet, a person wouldn’t have to succumb to any of these problems. He or she can turn to alternatives like yoga, meditation, etc.

4.  Wise usage of Time- “Time is what we want most but use the worst” -William Penn.  Spending hours on the internet, scrolling through pages can sometimes be a criminal waste of time. It is a spur to purposeful activities that make use of one’s skills and talents. Nevertheless, it is worth acknowledging that the WHO has established general health guidelines for the staying home period for monitoring PIU (problematic internet use). In the absence of the internet, most people will be open to taking up a hobby like reading books, learning a sport or a life skill in their free time. 

 

Cons-

  1. Limited Access to Education- Due to the outbreak of the virus, education has changed dramatically resulting in a distinctive rise of e-learning, whereby teaching is undertaken on digital platforms. With online classes and apps like BYJU’s, Coursera, etc, students are keeping themselves busy during the lockdown. Students who do not have access to the internet will face unprecedented problems. 
  2. No Work from Home- The increasing adoption of digital services, work-from-home has become the new normal which increased internet usage. Without the internet, work from home will be impossible. Employees will be forced to choose between their life and job. Subsequently, lakhs of people will be displaced from jobs which will ultimately lead to unemployment and poverty.
  3. Limited ways of Communication- With the rise of social distancing, people are seeking out new ways to connect. They can spontaneously schedule video conferences, voice messages, and phone calls. The pandemic means that there is something in common to talk about, which leads to reconnections. In the absence of the web, people will have to communicate via traditional methods like handwritten letters.
  4. Lack of Information- Based on mankind’s experience with SARS, Spanish Flu, Bubonic Plague, information flow is a key factor in fighting the pandemic. The Internet enables individuals to have instant access to reliable information while granting researchers with means for collaboration to develop a vaccine and efficient treatment strategies on a global scale. Sharing data increase traceability and transparency Without the internet, it would be extremely difficult to receive and share vital information pertaining to the crisis and measures to tackle it. Internet is a key enabler of the exercise and enjoyment of many human rights particularly the right to information.
  5. The downfall of businesses- Web and Technology play a crucial role in the exponential growth and expansion of businesses. It is important to harness their power which can help to ensure the continuity of operations even in remote conditions. If the internet ceases to exist, E-Banking, B2B, B2C communication would be affected which will subsequently lead to loss of capital and ultimately lead to the shutdown of the business, unemployment, etc.
  6. Inconvenience in Online Shopping and Retail- According to reports, online sales have skyrocketed to 76% in June because shops and malls are closed. Without the internet, it would be difficult to purchase basic amenities like groceries, sanitizers, masks without having to stand in long queues outside supermarkets. With no-contact doorstep delivery, websites like Amazon and E-bay have enabled us to purchase goods and services without any hassle. 

To conclude, the pandemic would be complex without the internet. Life will come to a standstill. It wouldn’t be impossible to live as our forefathers have survived deadlier viruses like plague and smallpox without the internet. Nevertheless, the internet makes our lives more convenient. Web and Technology can help prevent the spread, educate, warn, and empower those on the ground to be aware of the situation, and noticeably lessen the impact.

-Mahitha B