As the world peeks out from its doors after lockdowns lift, it looks out into a world forever changed by the coronavirus pandemic and digitalizing at an even faster pace.
Could this hasten the adoption of all things digital, including currencies?
George Morgan chuckled to himself at the meme that appeared on his Facebook feed and without thinking twice, deftly selected “share” on his smartphone and posted it on his Facebook wall, circulating the meme to his friends and family members.
For any member of the digital community, Morgan’s actions were unremarkable, except that he’s eighty-seven.
A decorated veteran of three wars, the octogenarian was introduced to Facebook by his great grandchildren almost two years ago.
And while Morgan was initially dismissive of the technology, the ability of the world’s largest social media platform to reunite him with his old army buddies, catch up with family and connect with the world, had him hooked.
Today, Morgan, whose eyesight is still pretty good for a man his age, still prefers to access Facebook on his desktop computer, a gift from his daughter, who’s fifty six, but he can’t imagine what life was like before he had found Facebook, noting,
“I thought technology was really just a thing for the young people. But especially during this coronavirus, where the girls can’t even come up to see me anymore, I think I would have been dead by now if not for this.”
And Morgan’s story is hardly unique.
As lockdowns have dragged on, our reliance on technology has only deepened, not lessened.
When you can’t go outside, shake hands, hug or share a meal, all that you’re left with is digital interaction.
And as the world gradually opens its doors ajar to lifting lockdowns, the world that we now step into, is vastly different from the one we shuttered our doors to.
Several companies have stood out as forming the digital backdrop for the coronavirus, including Zoom, Netflix and of course the video game of choice for the pandemic, Infinity Ward’s highly successful Call of Duty: Warzone, which racked up an astounding 50 million players globally in a matter of weeks.
And while “digital transformation” has been the buzzword in conferences and board rooms for years, it really took a global pandemic that pushed companies into “digitizing,” and in many cases, this digitalization was almost overnight.
The distinction between our “real lives” and our “digital lives” will become increasingly blurred and tech leaders are unsurprisingly, eager to usher in this new era, with Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, noting that social distancing rules, mark the start of “a remote everything.”
By Nadella’s estimate, the coronavirus pandemic has brought forward the adoption of a vast scope of technologies by as much as two years.
And while the precise pace of digitalization is debatable, that the coroanvirus has fundamentally altered the way we work, play, learn, shop and interact, is certain.
Consumer behavior for instance, typically takes years to change, but is now occurring almost overnight. Whereas before, a couple might have headed to the cinema, they’re now more likely to stay home with Netflix than ever before. Is it any wonder then that the world is fast running out of condoms?
People are spending more on home computer systems as well, with popular video gaming equipment increasingly sold out, including gaming headsets, keyboards, mice and large format monitors.
And with all that investment in home office and entertainment hardware, habits will change as well, with sectors such as video gaming becoming increasingly important economically.
Business relationships, which used to be forged over face-to-face meetings and countless dinners and drinks, have now had to be formed over Zoom calls, allowing business partners into the privacy and intimacy of our homes — speeding up the business matchmaking process in untold ways.
Politicians, used to the ruckus of party politics in person in capital cities, have had to make do with managing with video conferences and the demand for secure video communications between legislators has never been greater.
And in a world where it’s actually dangerous for people to work next to each other, automation technologies, in particular the adoption of robots, will occur at a faster pace than ever before.
The business processes developed to deal with this period will likely become the new rails upon which commerce runs and management is unlikely to rip up these new processes when the crisis passes.
Business trips, which form the bulk of airline revenues near the front of the plane are likely to become less common. And conferences may occur less frequently and more virtually.
Companies investing in automation will also start to downsize their labor force, not just for cost reasons, but for coronavirus reasons.
And even telemedicine will fundamentally alter the way our healthcare systems work and what it means to “see the doctor.”
Distance learning will draw into question the trillions of dollars we spend annually on school fees and lead even more to question the value of a degree, especially if the networking opportunities from education are no longer as available as they were previously.
On the flipside, the move towards digital learning could also make high quality education more widely available provided that governments invest in infrastructure that make it possible for even the poorest children to gain access to a computer and the internet, otherwise it will only serve to exacerbate already yawning inequality.
Many have likened the cornavirus pandemic to a war, and in there are strong parallels. For instance, the U.S. has entered a level of indebtedness (US$3.7 trillion) as a share of GDP, not seen since 1945, the very height of the Second World War.
And as governments and central banks everywhere issue debt as if it were going out of fashion, the monetary and fiscal policy consequences wrought by the coronavirus pandemic will be felt for decades to come.
Whereas prior to the pandemic, the U.S. Federal Reserve may have been reserved about issuing a central bank digital currency, the coronavirus may have set aside such reservations and accelerated the process in unforeseen ways.
Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, a vocal critic of Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency project, had included language in early drafts of the U.S. stimulus bill to cater for the prospect of a digital currency as well as issuing all Americans, digital wallets.
In a post coronavirus world, direct handouts from the government may no longer be anathema to even the fiercest of conservatives, with a sitting Republican president and Republican-led Senate, approving a nationwide stimulus check to every American.
All of these forces combined, will speed up not just the digitalization of our personal and business lives, but our financial lives as well.
Banks which have moved at glacial speeds to adopt digitalization will now need to factor that branches aren’t just contact points with their customers, they are potential hotbeds of future pandemics.
The entire financial system itself is due for a period of introspection and digitalization, at a speed that would otherwise have been impossible if not for the coronavirus pandemic.
And as money races to digitize, what is considered “money” will change as well — with the possibility that even private, decentralized currencies such as cryptocurrencies, one day competing alongside sovereign-issued national currencies.
Because ultimately, what holds value is what we say does, and as central banks keep print money, keeping score with money will become increasingly difficult, especially when the points are theoretically infinite.
To be sure, digitalization is not a foregone conclusion, but habits formed are hard to change — except during a period of crisis.
A simple example is how Europeans, having experienced the dire economic conditions of global conflict, became used to eating offal, whereas their Atlantic cousins in America never adopted the same practices.
Habits forged out of crisis also have a habit of enduring.
And when it comes to fiat currencies, particularly physical cash, the dangers in handling it (can it carry the coronavirus?) and depositing it (will I catch the coronavirus at the bank?) means that our relationship with money has been altered in ways which we haven’t even fully appreciated yet.
Against this backdrop, what qualifies as an asset or a currency will change as well.
Judging by the surge in Bitcoin, Ethereum and a host of other cryptocurrencies, the increase in trading volumes and the renewed interest in the nascent sector, an argument could be made that the coronavirus has fundamentally altered perceptions of “value.”
To be sure, a return to anything even vaguely resembling pre-coronavirus normality will see some drop-off in digital activity, but the digitalization genie has already been let out of the bottle.
Human beings are social creatures by design and we will no doubt rediscover the joys of personal contact, but the digital imprints that this period has written into our psyches, will mean that the world we open our doors to, will forever be different from the one we closed it on.
Patrick is an innovative entrepreneur and a lawyer passionate about cryptocurrencies and the business world. He is the CEO of Novum Global Technologies, a cryptocurrency quantitative trading firm. He understands the business concerns of founders and business people helping them to utilise the legal framework to structure their companies to take advantage of emerging technologies such as the blockchain in order to reach greater heights. His passion for travel, marketing and brand building has led him across careers and continents. He read law at the National University of Singapore and graduated with Honors in the Upper Division and joined one of Singapore’s top law firms, Allen & Gledhill where he was called to the Singapore Bar as an Advocate & Solicitor in 2005. He created Purer Skin, a skincare and inner beauty company which melds the traditional wisdom of ancient Asian ingredients such as Bird's Nest with modern technology. In 2010, his partner and himself successfully raised $589,000 from the National Research Foundation of Singapore under the Prime Minister’s Office. He has played a key role in the growth of Purer Skin from 11 retail points in Singapore to over 755 retail points in Singapore and 2 overseas in less than a year. He taught himself graphic design, coding, website design and video editing to create the Purer Skin brand and finished his training at a leading Digital Media Company.