The last few weeks have shaken our world to its core. We’ve become sequestered in our homes and “socially distant” from everyone else. Businesses and schools have closed. Workers have set up offices in spare bedrooms. Coming weeks will see most non-essential social activities cease entirely.
These hardships have upended daily routines and require us to adjust to a new normal, however long or temporary it may be. But as disruptive as coronavirus has been, we still have some semblance of normalcy — all thanks to the internet.
Digital services and platforms provide us an opportunity to continue some aspects of our lives as they were just weeks ago. Although we’ve heard a lot of backlash against tech, it turns out that when a crisis arises, it’s tech, along with healthcare workers, first responders, and average Americans, who step up.
Last fall, an anti-tech activist said, companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple are “the greatest threat to democracy that we have seen in our country since the Civil War.” Another testified to Congress that, “instead of operating for the public good they operate to their own benefit.”
Yet the actions we see today reveal that American businesses like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple are there when a crisis arises.
They’ve been essential to getting our supplies and food delivered, helping our children continue to learn, keeping us connected with our friends and families, enabling information sharing, helping identify symptoms, and letting people know when to go to the hospital and when not to.
Ironically, activists’ biggest complaints against tech — that it results in fewer direct interactions, is how we stay engaged while practicing social distancing. The White House coronavirus task force coordinator extolledtech’s ability “to contact each [other] without being in a large social gatherings.”
Helping Parents, Students, and Teachers
Like other parents, I was worried that school closure would disrupt not only my family’s life, but also the education of my children. Fortunately, tech platforms like Apple and Google had already helped us prepare for this shutdown by providing our schools with computers and increasingly sophisticated services to deliver remote learning.
In my school district, even with only a two-day notice of closure, parents and educators used tools like Google Classroom, Hangouts, and Zoom to keep students learning without missing a step.
My business continues to work, with video conferencing, online document collaboration, and messaging services. My wife is able to keep providing therapy via video conferencing. My father teaches his law school classes with online services. And FaceTime and social networking allows us to see and stay connected with our friends and family.
Helping with donations
Seeing the need for their products to keep us connected and operating, Google, Microsoft, and many others rolled out free versions of their connectivity tools. Amazon provided free subscriptions to Kindle Unlimited so we can continue to read as libraries close. Zoom and Google are making their services free for schools. Companies like Xfinity made their hotspots free for everyone and Verizon abolished data caps so that people can use the Internet to keep life moving.
It’s not just free services and products these leading American are giving away. Google and Facebook donated $45 million to aid relief efforts and are giving away nearly $1 billion in support to help small businesses and over $100 million in support of local newspapers.
Apple is designing and producing masks, donating over $15 million and 20 million masks, and is allowing customers to skip payment on March and April credit card bills.
Alibaba’s Jack Ma is donating 500,000 test kits and one million face masks. And Lyft and Uber are providing sick-pay to drivers and free sanitation tools.
Google added the WHO’s “Do the Five” to its homepage (arguably the most valuable online real estate in the world), and is developing with government a screening and resource website to help people know if they must get tested for the virus. While we can always do more to prevent the spread of misinformation and scams about the virus, moderators at Facebook, Twitter, and Google help us get correct and timely information.
In the face of this serious threat, America’s tech businesses have stepped up to help us through these tough times. This response from tech makes clear the hollowness of activists’ hate. These are not the actions of businesses operating only for “their own benefit,” as anti-tech activists claim. Far from being the “greatest threat to our democracy,” America’s big tech businesses are helping to bring Americans together.
It’s said that a crisis reveals who your true friends are. Next time you hear someone complaining about tech businesses, remind them how tech stepped up and helped us through these dark times.