Home » Computers » OK Adaptive Technology

OK Adaptive Technology

How many adaptations have you made in your life due to the COVID virus lockdowns and limitations? Over the last few months, in addition to my own life’s story, I have spoken to a number of business owners in connection with writing a business of interest article for this paper. Each of them has had to adapt in various ways to its customers’ health and safety, the state’s regulations, their own employee’s health and safety, and things like supply chains and hours of operation.

Significantly, we have all adjusted many of our day-to-day activities because of normal activities being cancelled or limited; stores having limited hours or lacking products; social activities being curtailed; schools being closed or operating online – it’s a long list.

What I’ve been pondering is: what happens when it’s “over?”

There was a phrase in popular parlance for a while – “the new normal.” I’ve noticed it hasn’t been used as much lately as it was a month or two ago. Maybe it was just too distressing to people to consider that “normal” wasn’t a fixed mark but a free-floating set of behaviors – maybe “fluid,” or perhaps just “sliding.”

One thing is certain: we have turned to the Internet for many of the things we used to do in person, even something like going to a movie. Some of these activities, I suspect, won’t return with the vigor with which we once enjoyed them, others will never return at all.

I have friends in New York City who for a long time used services like GrubHub and Instacart for delivered food and grocery shopping, respectively. In the time it took to put away the dishes from the dish washer, one of them would have browsed through the “aisles” of the grocery store and found meat, fresh seasonal produce, household products, and staples. A delivery time would be set, and payment was made through an account already created and verified. If something didn’t meet their approval it could be returned and/or replaced. If they wanted a meal delivered, they chose the restaurant – many of them participated in GrubHub (hence the “hub” in the name) – and they would be able to order for themselves and guests, everyone getting what he or she wanted for dinner, kids included. It would be delivered to the door, to be enjoyed in their apartment, or perhaps taken out to the park for a little al fresco meal.

That wasn’t as popular in a city like Syracuse, though pizza delivery and Asian food pick-up have been popular for many years, and now more and more restaurants are relying on food (and even drink) delivery – and people are enjoying the option of having their favorite dishes brought right to their door. But shopping in the store has been an activity that locally almost doubles as a social occasion, as you were likely to run into someone you knew while navigating the aisles. With masks and distancing, the weekly ritual wasn’t as much fun, and since so many grocery stores are now delivering, shopping online has found its way into our routines. Most of us have gotten used to spur-of-the-moment purchases from Amazon and other large online sources; it’s convenient when you don’t need the item today and you don’t want to forget it. Now drug stores will deliver – that’s easy. You can get a refill and perhaps a few other items you normally pick up there and have them delivered to your home.

Entertainment is a little tougher nut, but we were already headed toward streaming TV/movies and “binge watching” before the virus kept us closer to home with even libraries shutting down in its early days. Over time, entertainers who usually performed live and who had to cancel tour dates began to perform for appointment audiences via a streamed program – even things like concerts, from rock to symphonies. While there’s an element missing when you can’t be part of a rock audience at a favorite venue enjoying the vibe of the crowd, there’s also something to be said for a small group of fan-friends gathered around a big screen TV enjoying some drinks, music, and comaraderie, and not having to stand in line to get in, or wait in traffic to get home.

While you still have to visit your dentist – donned in a hazmat suit and all-but-unrecognizable – for a cleaning, routine checkups for low-risk patients with your Internist or PA are conducted via phone and/or FaceTime. Again, something lost and something gained: you won’t have been actually “seen,” but you don’t have to get up early and take a shower to make your appointment. FaceTime or Skype (or Google Hang Outs) – which laughably were once the sign of The Future in old TV shows (the video phone!) are common means of getting together with people these days. I “had dinner” with my sister the other evening via a video call.

Lucky people can “work” from home via computer, and may never go back to an office. Why waste time commuting more than once or twice a week, or paying for office space or for that matter for a “work” wardrobe when most of what you do is online anyway? Others, whose jobs depend on being onsite or going to customers’ homes, will either return to work eventually or not, if the business can’t survive the downtime. Many businesses have learned that a GoToMeeting weekly can serve to keep employees informed about what’s needed, and allow people to touch base with one another. Cell phones have, ironically, made us more connected – often in ways we find intrusive – than we were without them, even given social distance and closed office doors. We’ll certainly learn the meaning of the term “essential worker.” And of course as some jobs disappear, others will be created, as has always seemed to be the case as technology alters the landscape.

Schools have adapted by conducting classes via Internet. Interestingly, I took a couple of college-level courses through a program called “Coursera” a few years ago. It was very interesting, was totally online, and could be done live or on your own schedule, for credit or not, and while you had an option to listen to the lectures and take the post-lecture quizzes at your own pace, there was a completion date. Some courses were free, and some had a fee. Some also had tests (multiple choice tests obviously got a grade immediately; essay tests were sometimes evaluated by other students) and you got a grade or at least an evaluation. It wasn’t an ideal way to learn, but it was reasonably effective. I took a programming course, another one in audio, and a third in history. Of course, the younger the student, the more they would need a classroom in order to not just get the kind of feedback that only interaction with a teacher can provide, but also the opportunity to learn social skills and adaptive behavior that playing with, and learning with, other children provide. If schools remain closed, there may be much school systems can learn from how home-schooling parents and groups have handled the social interaction piece of the education puzzle.

We’re still a bit away from a possible return to our “old normal,” and the longer we adapt to life in semi-isolation, the more ways we’ll find to adjust. As social animals, it’s unlikely we’ll remain islands of family and close friends – we’ll want to return to restaurants, bars, concerts and entertainments. It just remains to be seen which of our adaptive technological measures we find so comfortable we become unwilling to give them up.

Nancy Roberts