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The pandemic is deepening our symbiosis with the internet

How the pandemic is helping us appreciate the key role of the internet in our lives and reminding us of how much more there is to build on it.

Mick Morucci
Apr 5 · 10 min read
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A CGI view of the underground network of tree roots and fungi. Screenshot from movie Fantastic Fungi.
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John Hopkins COVID-19 global monitoring data has been the world-wide real-time interface for monitoring the status of the virus.

The big picture of the internet economy (spoiler: it’s still small)

The US internet economy is roughly 10% of its entire GDP, based on a 2019 study. Unsurprisingly, the Big Tech players are kings of this space and take the largest slice of the pie: Facebook and Google account for approximately 84% of global digital ads, while Amazon accounts for roughly 50% of all online retail spending in the USA.

The lockdown pushes people online

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7Steady state internet economy growth represented in black, and the new steady state curve being created by the pandemic-led lockdown in grey. This is a conceptual graph so does not represent real data.

Social distancing and virtual closening

Everything is going virtual — even events and gatherings of all kinds which would otherwise be postponed and cancelled altogether are happening virtually.

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Left: Remo. Right: CrowdCast
  • CrowdCast is also growing in usage, providing event builders and broadcasters the platform to post their events to specific guests or the general public, and to request payments directly on the platform. Once users join the event, only the hosts appear on video and users can provide feedback and comment through a communal chat.
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Left: House Party App (left). Right: Zoom meme: did Zoom engineer the virus to get this success?
  • HouseParty is another social media phoenix emerging out of the pandemic’s ashes (I agree with you, Zara Stone!). It is a quirky app, designed for younger audiences, that enables users to form social circles, move in and out between them, and interact with others by playing games, make drawings, and more. It has definitely managed to carve its own unique place between social media (like Facebook) and video comms tools (like Skype or WhatsApp).

Benefits provided by these platform experiences

Is this virtual closening bad? I don’t think so. Virtual experiences are super convenient (no matter where in the world you are), increasingly interactive, and so much more. Online tools have a lot to offer, here are some of the benefits I found from the platforms described above:

  • Shrinking geographies: People sharing similar interests can now join global conferences from their living rooms. To be participative and engaged, it no longer matters where in the world you’re located.
  • Expanding features and possibilities: Online platforms are highly elastic and mouldable to be fit for purpose. Think it’s creepy how HouseParty allows users to spy on who their friends are talking to? (Me too). But this feature was designed in an effort to make their younger users interested in joining their friends’ parties (and, who knows, maybe also to allow their parents to keep an eye on the party from outside its virtual door). The point being: it’s easy to plug in and repurpose features to these apps so they better serve us as our way of using them evolved. Thank the APIs!
  • Increasing interaction through intuitive interfaces: Although there is a need for growth here (as we’ve seen communication tools are mostly video-based which are fixed and offer a limited interaction potential), the online solutions we looked at are beginning to display in-app interactivity through integration of games, drawing boards and creative background. This creates the possibility for richer social dynamics more fit for purpose.

Limitations of these platforms

Here are some of the main limitations of the tools I looked at:

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When a screenshot is already a meme: Boss Accidentally Turns Herself Into Potato During Video Call Meeting on Teams using SnapCamera (NYPost)
  • More interaction with virtual objects: In Remo.co we saw the possibility of moving one’s 2D icon around the virtual conference, and in Houseparty one can play games and make drawings while on the call. I am sure we all agree that so much more can be done here. Material objects in the real world are really important, they help us to ground our experiences and make more meaning out of them. Example: in the face-to-face meetings I have with my colleagues we often use the whiteboard to write down ideas and represent our thoughts visually. Now, virtual objects fit for purpose could enable many possibilities and greater experiences in specific realms of our work and social lives.

The early vision of the internet

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J.C.R. Licklider.

The human-internet symbiosis

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Another CGI view of the underground network of tree roots and fungi. Screenshot from Fantastic Fungi.
The Uncensored Library. The server houses a massive protected library in which anyone can come and visit. It includes article
The Uncensored Library. The server houses a massive protected library in which anyone can come and visit. It includes article
The Uncensored Library in Minecraft houses a massive protected library in which anyone can come and visit censored stories from around the world. I find this to be a powerful symbol of the places we can build and inhabit on the internet (Bleeding Cool).

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Mick Morucci

Written by

UX Researcher and creative. Exploring the worlds of tech, fintech and cryptocurrencies. Anthropology & Economics. mickmorucci.com

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +719K people. Follow to join our community.

Mick Morucci

Written by

UX Researcher and creative. Exploring the worlds of tech, fintech and cryptocurrencies. Anthropology & Economics. mickmorucci.com

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +719K people. Follow to join our community.

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