COVID-19 and the technological transition

Technology has seen a boom in the past few months since South Africa is moving to a more digitized way of living

Technology has become central

A study done within the past few weeks of lockdown throughout South Africa has found crucial information that technology has become central and more pronounced than ever before. A total of 66 percent of the respondents denoted that the corona virus has helped them to embrace technology during the time of isolation. A great number (67 percent) of those who have access have indicated that they are prone to watch more online videos and TV on demand due to the growing surge of the pandemic and prolonged days of lockdown. 

An example of this is the switch from traditional broadcast television such as DStv to streaming services such as Netflix, Showmax and other popular platforms available on the market. Unlike broadcast television where you have to subscribe to a bouquet of channels and are forced to watch programmes at certain fixed times, streaming services offer people flexibility and complete freedom of choice of what they want to watch, when they want to watch it. As can be expected, social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have grown in importance , and so has using video calling platforms such as WhatsApp, FaceTime and Skype. Companies have also needed to look towards the use of platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft teams to keep consistent communication with staff and general organisational functioning. From these results it is apparent that in a time of physical distancing, technology plays an important role to ensure social inclusion and connectivity on multiple levels.

South African, Sub Saharan, and world view

South Africa has always had a struggle to increase technological use in the poorest of communities in the country and the pandemic has forced government to look to prioritizing it for future infrastructure. According to GSMA, a mobile operators trade body, approximately three-quarters of the population in sub-Saharan Africa – 747 million people – have a mobile connection. But only a third of these – 250 million – use a smartphone.

In 2019, only 10 out of 45 African countries tracked by the Alliance for Affordable Internet were able to afford internet connectivity (defined as 1GB of mobile prepaid data costing 2% or less of the average monthly income). Unfortunately, very little can be done about this in the short term. This is a multi-faceted governance issue, which requires the adoption of macro-economic policies which would result in improving the livelihoods of citizens, so they are able to afford the necessary technology. As far as communication and updates are concerned, The South African government is using WhatsApp to run an interactive chat-bot which can answer common queries about COVID-19 myths, symptoms and treatment. It has reached several million users in five different languages and Its effectiveness had been well received.

Technology has provided a solution to contact-tracing, which is an essential tool in curbing the spread of the disease. The use of cell phone location tracing enables officials to accurately identify where an infected person has been, and which cell phone numbers were in their proximity. The holders of these cell phone numbers can then be contacted for testing to determine whether they contracted the disease through close proximity to the primary infected person. This innovation has solved the contact-tracing challenge in a reliable and scientific manner since cell-phone use is widespread 

Africa Connected

Modern information technology has also allowed people to work from home, churches and artists to live stream their services and productions, and schools to conduct lessons remotely and even confer academic degrees.  This has allowed the slowed but eventual move to embracing technology a little better as a country. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated key technology trends, including digital payments, tele-health and robotics. These technologies can help reduce the spread of the corona virus while helping businesses stay open. Technology can help make society more resilient in the face of pandemic and other threats. This proves to be just as important for countries such as South Africa that still needs a greater portion of its citizens to adopt technology in everyday use.

Sub-Saharan Internet access rates are among the worst in the world. In 2017, only one in five people in sub-Saharan Africa were able to access the Internet, compared to the 48 percent across all countries worldwide and the 41 percent rate for developing countries. Part of this disparity results from the lack of critical infrastructure for Internet access within these regions.

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