Our Virtual Pandemic Year – The New York Times

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The pandemic, which officially hit the one-year mark on Thursday, showed how much we need technology — but also that it’s probably not the solution to our biggest challenges.

Here are three things that I’ve learned in the past 12 months: Technology showed its utility by helping people and businesses manage through a crisis. Our increasingly digital lives have also created new problems that will be hard to fix. And the most important things have nothing to do with technology.

Let’s talk about each of these.

First, I am grateful that technology helped many millions of us muddle through work, school and family life. It also kept us informed when little seemed to make sense.

I’m glad that my apartment was able to become On Tech’s headquarters. I entertained myself with digital books and streaming videos, and I stayed in touch through screens with friends and family. I chose to shop at local businesses based on whether I could place online orders and reserve a time for pick up. Technology has helped many of us retain shreds of normalcy in a pandemic.

And the technology that promised to bring restaurant owners, product merchants and job seekers more income during challenging times also created new and unwelcome dependencies on the digital middlemen, such as DoorDash, Amazon and Uber. The influence and economic might of the Big Tech superpowers become even more glaring. It will be a failure if the new digital economy — like the old economy — does not work for everyone.

And my lasting memory of the past 12 months is that technology often does not matter very much.

Humans and human-run institutions pulled off last year’s presidential election with few problems. Humans also were largely responsible for undermining credibility in the election outcome.

Humans looking out for one another as well as policymakers’ choices were the most important factors in keeping people safe — or not — during the pandemic. And the magic of coronavirus vaccines and the protests that demanded a more fair country had little to do with what we think of as technology.

It’s been a long, awful year and let’s hope that the next 12 months will be brighter. And also let us hold in our minds that people, not technology, change the world.

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We want to hear about a tech habit that you started during the pandemic. Share with On Tech how it’s helped you manage the past year or unleash your creativity. What do you like (and hate) about your new virtual behavior? Do you see yourself keeping it?

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