When you need perspective, you take a step back. What is right now probably not easily visible, because the foreground is currently centred someplace else, could become less so in the weeks to come. And it would be a shame to waste such an opportunity to make everything digital available to more people.
This crisis, that is as a health-related one, could soon turn out to have social intricacies. Barely had we survived a weekend under quarantine. Next, we have been literally flooded with free online resources: courses and classes, theatre and opera plays, movies and books, advice and expertise on how to videoconference and take your business online.
I would like to think this was rooted in a sort of cultural and educational solidarity. When you have time to spare on your hands, what do you do? You read, you watch movies, you take up a course, you brush up on your foreign language knowledge, you sign up for a yoga class, you learn some tricks on digital marketing to boost up your client base.
Yet, when this time to spare is forced by circumstances, when you must stay in with this invisible sword hanging over your head, doubled up by counting the days before you can get back to your job, because this is not actually a holiday – then you can´t even be bothered to check what opera house has opened its virtual doors to all or what highly praised and awarded movies are out there free to watch from the comfort of your couch and secured by the speedy wireless internet connection in your home.
And even if you can be bothered: we all know this is going to go away as soon as we are all allowed to go back to our jobs. This is an exceptional situation and it´s all nice and generous we are all sharing and caring right now, but how is this going to work when we must all go back to charging and paying for everything, including education?
I think this doesn´t have to be like this. I think this should teach us to change our perspective.
Many experts didn’t hesitate to share their experience about the best digital platforms to teach or the basic practices before, during and after a videoconference call, all the rough principles of leading a business from your smartphone or how to find a virtual free spot for your small family business outside your now quarantined neighbourhood. I think that these experts obviously did that because they wanted to share information, but not least of all because to many other people, it is not only brand new information, but it also poses significant problems and constitutes an obstacle to learning.
Some of us may seem to think that since we are millennials, generation X, or generation Z, using a smartphone, apps, and a Wi-Fi connection is just about as easy as washing your hands (yes, pun intended). Joke aside, I have personally come to discover that I was wrong: people need a lot more training when it comes to taking digital steps and it´s not at all a question of age or generation.
The best example is that of my own parents: they are both in their early 70s and they have Facebook and WhatsApp accounts, they would know to download just about any app, they FaceTime all the time, they constantly send and receive .gifs, videos and photos, they are aware of how to shorten an URL and why it´s important, and they know the difference between a pdf and an .epub, or what a meme is. They know all that because all their children live and work in other countries and they had to adapt at a fast pace.
What about all the other people? Some of my students – generally in their late 20s and early 30s – don´t know that it´s important to use earphones when in a videoconference not only for privacy or to protect people in your immediate your vicinity, but most importantly, to protect the ears of other fellow conference partakers; why it´s polite to deactivate your mic when you are not speaking, so you don´t send any unwanted noise such as brushing a piece of paper at a heightened volume to all your digital audience.
And these situation examples come out of this forcedly new experience of having to teach your classes or deliver your lectures remotely. This only means these people just didn´t have the opportunity to learn. We all say we are hyperconnected 24/7, but somehow, we didn´t manage to go through the basics.
The digital era is here; it has been around for a while. As long as we all had the choice between virtual and face-to-face, it was all swell, but now that somehow the choice has been made for us, it´s time to stand and face the music.
All resources that have these days been so openly shared should continue to be free. Moreover, educators from all walks of the profession should share knowledge and expertise on how to bring more people into this digital era. Let´s hope we´ll keep having the choice between real and virtual – but with an equally good grasp of both.