Stanford Professor of Health Policy and Great Barrington legend Jay Bhattacharya has written a piece in Spiked where he argues that, while there were doubtless multiple factors that drove the world to lockdown in spring 2020, a key one was remote-working technology like Zoom that, for the first time, made extended periods of isolation economically viable. Here’s an excerpt.
One of the central mysteries of the pandemic is why countries worldwide simultaneously decided to jettison a century of experience managing respiratory-virus pandemics, usually with an approach akin to the focused-protection model proposed by the Great Barrington Declaration, in favour of lockdowns and school closures. While the cause is undoubtedly multifactorial, one of the underappreciated enabling factors is the availability of technologies like Zoom, which made lockdown economically manageable for one crucial subset of the population – the laptop class.
While video-conferencing technologies have been around for decades, it is only in recent years that they have matured to the point where white-collar, ‘knowledge economy’ workers could possibly conceive of using them to support a rapid and long-lasting shift from in-person to remote interactions.
In the first decade of the 21st century, while video-conferencing services like Skype did exist, they required broadband internet services that were not universally available even in developed countries. Those services were not designed for large companies or schools to deploy at scale while maintaining adequate security. Skype, from my own experience, was often glitchy for video, performed poorly when more than two people were calling in, and did not integrate seamlessly with calendar systems, which is essential to schedule meetings.
Online educational offerings were also available but typically consisted of poorly produced YouTube videos with little opportunity for direct and immediate instructor feedback. Similarly, you could call up for home delivery of food from pizza joints, but only a select few other restaurants offered this service. There was no DoorDash, Uber Eats, or other similar food-delivery services. The range of offerings on Amazon was paltry in comparison with today.
By 2020, all that had changed. A new array of online technologies and products, which enabled people to work, shop and order in using their computer or phone, allowed the laptop class to go into lockdown relatively comfortably. But this was not the experience of others, for whom lockdown brought significant pain.