Opinion | Tech in the Post-Pandemic World

Assessing its future, both the bad and the good.

By Kara Swisher

Ms. Swisher covers technology and is a contributing opinion writer.

The freaky video of the New York Police Department’s robot dog owned the internet earlier this month. The minute that DigiDog creepily trotted out of a public housing building, many people decided that the “Terminator” future had arrived — and that humanity was doomed.

Humanity is not doomed. But the hubbub got me thinking about how to assess the future of tech, both the bad and the good, in the wake of the pandemic.

Much like the major changes that raced through American society after the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic (also after World War I), this will be a jarring time. Here’s my take on five of the key arenas we need to be thinking about post-pandemic.

Telecommuting. Work, and specifically its shift from the office to the home, has been one of the most significant changes of the past year. Of course many jobs still require physical presence, but the number of workers who do not have to be analog is vast and growing.

These so-called knowledge workers have realized — even with all the griping about being on Zoom all the time — that it can be both cheaper and more productive to have a work force that is more flexible in terms of place and time.

No chief executives I’ve spoken with in recent months think that their company will have a significant amount of staff in any kind of headquarters at any one time in the future. Facebook said this week that its employees could work at home permanently; this will become increasingly common.

And despite a number of impediments to virtual work — including the very basic human need to connect in person — the reams of data collected over the past year show remote work can be more productive. This information will lead to all manner of innovations — and more remote work.

There is much to worry about here, of course, including the persistent tracking of workers and their effectiveness, at all tiers of the workplace. Also, managers will rely a lot less on anecdotal evidence than actual performance when it comes to evaluating worker productivity, which can be a good thing.

Tele-health. Health care is another area that was ripe for disruption prepandemic, as the industry had resisted tech for many years. A number of giant companies like Microsoft and Google have tried to streamline the consumer health experience, while many others have been part of digitizing the back end, but it’s still a miasma of confusion. The pandemic only underscored the poor state of the country’s health services.

The Covid era is the first time in many decades that the well-off have had to experience the inadequate health services that have long been suffered by marginalized populations. Because of the mess that has been Covid testing and vaccine scheduling, among other examples, huge numbers of people now understand from firsthand experience the cost of our broken medical system.

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