When the new school year started recently, I asked my students one of the cliched classroom questions – whether they keep track of news and events, and if so, how?
After a few seconds of indeterminable silence, the first response came. The student who responded first noted Instagram as his favourite way of keeping himself up to date with things happening in and out of Indonesia.
That answer showed a sea change from my own interactions with my teachers in the 1990s when I responded by naming a few physical newspapers we used to subscribe to and read on a daily basis. The timeline of this transformation would take one from newspapers to websites, to emails, and finally giving in to social media platforms in an age where time is a luxury and fast food as a way of serving things being the norm, and that is where gadgets hold an indispensable proposition.
It is one of the most striking differences in the ways of growing up as far as Millennials and Gen Z are concerned. We’ve moved from paper to gadgets and from page-turning to scrolling.
Talking about the importance of gadgets, nowhere has it been more crucial than in this pandemic era, where they have been playing the role of mediator between people. As the world went into lockdown, businesses dropped, the sale of mobile phones and computers slumped drastically. Records released between March and August 2020 show that demand for such gadgets fell very sharply as people started saving money. Both Apple and Samsung reported losses or very slow sales in February 2020 in comparison with February 2019. Research firm Strategy Analytics found that shipments of phones fell by 38 percent year-on-year, said to be the biggest fall since the appearance of the smartphone.
Despite the losses in the early days of COVID-19, both the tech giants braved to promote and even release new products – Samsung with its S21 line and Apple with a new iPad Pro and a new MacBook Air. There must have been a clear prediction of prolonged stay-at-home periods as more and more countries went into lockdown across the globe.
The moves were not misplaced. The first and the second quarters of 2021 saw the two big players reporting very high profits. The profits had been pronounced from the third quarter of 2020 as companies and schools went online and work and study from home became the new normal. Mobile phone donations and the setting up of smartphone libraries by schools with a view to helping out the needy added to the companies’ steady sales growth.
The tech giants, especially smartphone and PC developers, owe plenty in terms of sales spurt to online meeting platforms like Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meet, and Facebook’s own Messenger app that features meeting rooms. When the hardware section tried to reach out to diverse populations in towns and villages, the software consorts complemented that by arranging convenient meeting facilities. Established institutions like multinational companies and international schools were significant entities that made the most of these platforms.
Zoom has been dominant from the start, as revealed by records from the first quarter of 2020 till now. The platform has as many as 300 million daily participants and is one of the highest. A rival, Microsoft Teams, is not far behind. Its surge that started in August 2020 seems unstoppable now, and with more and more educational institutions adopting it as the virtual classroom, it has the potential to give Zoom a run for its money. With its features including file storage, scheduling assignments, and a virtual class notebook, Microsoft Teams has a definite advantage over other players. Schools that initially used a combination of Zoom and Google Docs – one for meeting and the other to send and/or share files have switched to Microsoft Teams, where everything can be executed in one place.
The radio may not sound as electronic as the glitzy gadgets we have been talking about at this stage of the 21st century, but it has sent out strong signals of its crucial role during the pandemic. UNICEF arranged radio lessons in different parts of the world, focusing on remote corners of countries in Asia and Africa. This has been a boon to many children who cannot afford to buy smartphones and whose regions do not get coverage from mobile phone service providers. It wasn’t just the less privileged, but also well-to-do city dwellers who benefited from listening to radio programmes by making it one of their very few options for entertainment during lockdown days. Reports suggest a remarkable growth in radio listening in 2020 and 2021.
As the situation is still evolving and the future looks uncertain, our e-life is set to continue, at least for the foreseeable future. This has been allowing more players to come into the market to meet the diverse needs of an infinite variety of customers. The driving points when it comes to customer satisfaction are cost, features, and user-friendliness. Companies must play around with this formula to up their sales as much as possible during the pandemic era and beyond. And that means that e-life is here to stay. The numbers may not be big, but some countries, including Singapore, are mulling work from home as a long-term option in fields where it is feasible.