Mohammad Minhajudd, a resident of Aurangabad, had had his marriage fixed with a woman in Beed six months back. With the entire country under lockdown, it would have been impossible to have a conventional wedding. Not wanting to delay the marriage, the family decided to complete the rituals over a video call. I am sure they managed to have the wedding well within the budget; I only hope they had a good broadband connection.
With the world in lockdown, video technologies have been embraced like never before. And as we practice “physical distancing”, one realises how irrelevant physical distance is. Suddenly, I am in as regular touch with friends in Hong Kong, London or Washington DC as I am with friends in Delhi. After all, my overseas friends are now equally distant to shake hands with (Shh…shaking hands is anyways a taboo now!), while being as close as my Delhi friends to come on video.
The older generation is catching on to the bug too. Last week, my Ludhiana-based septuagenarian uncle decided to celebrate his birthday with the entire extended family. Usually known for his commendable organisational skills, he struggled through the next hour, juggling mobile phones as everyone decided to call on different platforms. With cross-conversation and a competition to be loudest, and hence noticed, the party look more like a 9 PM news show.
Of course, video doesn’t mean all play and no work. I’ve been as connected to my own team as I was before the lockdown. The disability sector as a whole has been extensively using video chats to coordinate relief work.
It is extremely fascinating to see how the gig economy has responded to the new normal. Every morning, I am woken up by my brother exercising to loud music, with his instructor correcting his posture through a video call (I wonder how he wakes up so early, considering he’s partying with his friends on video till late hours every evening). A friend is using her time to learn salsa from a dance instructor, while I attended a show by my favourite comedian over video.
At a more macroscopic level, whether it’s companies interacting with their supply chain, the Supreme Court delivering justice, the Prime Minister using it to interact with his Cabinet and run the country, or the European Union developing a Covid response—everything is happening over video.
Of course, all is not hunky dory when it comes to video platforms. Security researchers have called some of the leading platforms as “privacy disasters” and “fundamentally corrupt”, as allegations that some of the companies are mishandling consumer data snowball. On 30 March, the FBI actually opened an investigation into the increasing number of cases of people hacking into video meetings and shouting racial slurs and threats. Another popular platform actually announced a one million dollar bounty for information on who was spreading rumours after allegations were made that it was stealing people’s personal data. We are still very much in the wild, wild west when it comes to video technology platforms. My bet is that, with time, we will see users valuing security, accessibility and privacy.
Video chat may have existed for decades, but with the advent of 4G on mobile phones and fast broadband connections, it has now become technologically feasible for every individual to access this technology. With “physical distancing” being the new norm, humans, the social animals that they are, have jumped on to video communication platforms and made them part of their lives. Covid-19 is a war, just that it’s against an enemy one cannot see; and wars have historically led to innovations that later became part of mainstream life. Kimberley Clark, for example, an American manufacturing firm, started distributing Celluton, a super-absorbent fabric for use as gauze to dress wounds during the First World War. Soon, nurses at military hospitals began to use this fabric for their menstrual hygiene needs. And that’s how sanitary napkins were born.
Covid-19 came, Covid-19 conquered, and Covid-19 will be conquered. However, as it was in the case of sanitary napkins during World War I, canned food that got popular during Napolean’s wars, or more recently, digital photography during the Cold War, communication through video is here to stay. After all, as Charles Dickens said while talking about humans, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.”