Lessons Learned from The First Pandemic of The Digital Era

The first major global pandemic of this century has represented an unprecedented challenge for the economy, culture, politics and society in general, at a privileged historical moment in which for the first time human beings were able to continue working, studying, shopping, going to the doctor and interacting, even in conditions of prolonged confinement, all thanks to a global network of computers and new technologies, most of which are less than 20 years old.

What Lessons Can Be Learned for Humanity from The Pandemic in Times of The Internet?

By: Gabriel E. Levy B.


Although for the vast majority of humans that inhabit this planet this year probably represented a hell that we would not want to repeat, the truth is that unlike the pandemics that our ancestors had to suffer, in social, labor, economic, educational and cultural terms, the impact was less and for the first time in a virtual way life could continue to move forward in the midst of uncertainty and pain. Undoubtedly, the technologies that played a leading role in this confinement were: Zoom, Google Meet and Teams, with millions of hours of virtual teleconferencing, allowing humans to remain connected in their classes, work activities, medical appointments and social meetings, while e-commerce platforms grew exponentially, keeping the global economy running.

Now, taking up many of the analyses we made throughout the year, here are some of the main lessons learned from this pandemic:

Attendance avoidance helps the environment and makes work more efficient

If there is one thing that this pandemic revealed, it is that being on-site in the professional and administrative field had become almost a fetish for companies, especially when it came to meetings, forcing their entire workforce to travel long distances in polluted cities with high congestion, which if added to all the companies operating in the same city, was causing the collapse of mobility and the environment in major cities around the world.

Thanks to this pandemic, many organizations have understood that there is no need to be on-site in the administrative field, and of course this does not apply to applied labor or manufacturing. Thousands of companies around the world plan to reduce the size of their offices and keep most of their employees working from home, which generates significant cost savings, but above all quality of life for families.

In this regard, David Mott, founding partner of Oxford Capital, a real estate investment firm in London, UK, stated recently in an interview with the British media outlet BBC that:

The office is no longer the place where we are expected to spend fixed shifts with rigid meeting schedules. Most of us who used to work in an office can do our work from home, from a café, from a friend’s house or from a coworking site.

Of course, for some professions, location is critical. But we as office workers are looking at a blank page. We have an incredible opportunity to redefine the way we work and rewrite the norms” [1].

Flexibility as the great differential value in the professional field

Another learning in the labor field that this pandemic has left us is that the main professional competence in the present world and almost unquestionably is: Flexibility, i.e. the ability to unlearn or relearn, to adapt to the challenges of the circumstances, a process that some have called: “reinvent oneself“, which, although in theory seems very simple, in practice it is complex, since by instinct we tend to privilege the terrain of the certain over the unknown.

An article recently published by the Colombian newspaper Portafolio, which specializes in economic issues, effectively identified that flexibility has become an essential value in the post-pandemic period:

Faced with challenges and uncertainty, entrepreneurs are looking for people who can adapt quickly and who, in addition to technical knowledge, have internalized soft skills to be able to face any event.” Article from Portafolio magazine [2].

Similarly, it is important to recognize that organizations based on innovation, such as Google, for some years have been favoring talent with a high degree of flexibility and that permanently reinvents themselves as part of their human teams, even at times they have leaned more towards talent that has not gone through university faculties, since they consider that it adapts much better to innovation processes.

Lights and shadows in the field of Education

Millions of students around the world were able to continue receiving classes and meeting virtually with their classmates and teachers, something that is undoubtedly very positive because the time at home could be used to continue the educational processes in other ways. However, the pandemic has made it clear that at least in the preschool, primary and secondary school grades, face-to-face attendance, direct socialization, outdoor spaces and contact with other human beings are still very important, so this pandemic has taught us that although in the field of professional training the offers will surely continue to grow and strengthen from the virtual, the same will not necessarily happen in the field of basic training.

For the expert Rodrigo Sanchez Villa, who recently published an article called The Failure of Online Education: Everybody Does, Nobody Learns:

Virtual Education works well only when an indispensable, inexcusable requirement is met: that the student be high-profile, that is, that he or she has a genuine interest in acquiring knowledge and the capacity to be self-taught. There are some distance programs, at the graduate level, that meet that high standard, but they require students who can read and understand well what they read and what they write and who, in addition, can demonstrate their knowledge when asked about it.” Rodrigo Sanchez Villa [3].

For Colombian expert Fernando Zapata, in the field of basic education, both primary and secondary, as well as preschool, virtual education functions mainly as a complementary or support tool, which eventually reinforces traditional processes, since in these stages, face-to-face attendance is very relevant:

The nature of the formative processes required at early ages, due to the importance of direct physical interaction among children and their teachers, as well as physical activity and play, demand face-to-face presence in the training processes of minors.” Fernando Zapata Duque [7].

The consequences of a worsening digital gap

The Internet became an essential resource for people to continue with their daily lives during this pandemic, whether working, studying or simply communicating, something that did not represent a major trauma for people with sufficient income in large cities. But in the case of families below the poverty line and rural areas, the “Digital Divide”, which until now only seemed to be a mere statistic, became a palpable reality, where millions of people were left without access to work, communications, health, but above all to education, from one day to the next.

According to the United Nations, 1,200 million children around the world have been left without going to school because of the pandemic [4]. In Peru, more than 80% of children living in rural areas do not have access to the Internet, which is equivalent to almost 50% of the total school-age child population [5]. In Ecuador, barely 37% of families have access to the Internet, which means that 6 out of 10 children are unable to study, according to UNICEF. On the other hand, more than one million children and adolescents in the coastal area of this country alone are not able to connect to digital educational content and many must travel long distances or borrow Internet, a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly frequent in the Andean nation [6].

In Costa Rica according to official figures from the Ministry of Public Education (MEP), half of the students do not have permanent access to the Internet, computer, tablet or smartphone. Some receive material via WhatsApp, when they can afford to pay for a top-up on an electronic device credit [7].

In Argentina, according to the report “Social Inequalities in Pandemic Times” by the Observatory of the Argentine Social Debt of The Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina (UCA), the deficit of access to information in childhood and adolescence, evidenced that 48.7% do not have a PC in their homes and 47.1% do not have access to Internet service [8].

In conclusion, the use and exploitation of the Internet and the consolidation of an information society is a very positive aspect of this pandemic, which should become a learning experience that we should capitalize on for the future, avoiding the abuse of the presence of people, not only for the preservation of the environment, but also for the improvement of the quality of life of all the inhabitants of large cities, At the same time, the reduction of the digital divide must become the main banner of Latin American governments in the coming years, because if the divide between those who have access to the network and those who do not is not reduced, we will be witnessing an unprecedented increase in poverty in a region with all kinds of shortages and needs.

[1] BBC UK article on post-pandemic work in offices.

[2] Article from the media Portafolio.

[3] Article: the failure of online education.

[4] New Herald article on the effect of the pandemic on education.

[5] Vanguardia article on the problem of the Digital Divide in Peru.

[6] Press article from Ecuadorian media about the digital divide in this country.

[7] Article Costa Rica Naked by Covid.

[8] Article: the problem of the Digital Divide in Argentina.

Disclaimer: The published articles correspond to contextual reviews or analyses on digital transformation in the information society, duly supported by reliable and verified academic and/or journalistic sources.  The publications are NOT opinion articles and therefore the information they contain does not necessarily represent Andinalink’s position, nor that of their authors or the entities with which they are formally linked, regarding the topics, persons, entities or organizations mentioned in the text.