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One of the most conspicuous lessons from this COVID-19 season, is that minimal physical interaction amongst humans is perfectly normal and attainable.

Technology has, in recent days, ably stepped in to fill voids left by physical and social distancing. It is helping us to continue learning, shopping, earning a livelihood, and generally keeping our lives on the go, albeit remotely.

Think of the many things that we previously insisted on presenting ourselves physically for that have proven to be time wasters.  The desired objective, we are learning, can be delivered as well, without the effort of struggling to show up in person. In many cases, it does not merit –an email or phone call could suffice. Thanks to technology, staying in touch remotely is possible.

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Clearly, the digital future seems to have gotten here sooner than it had been projected to arrive. Thanks to it, what appeared like foresight only a few months ago is transfiguring into terrible strategic decisions. Churches, for instance, are stuck with half-done real estate behemoths that were meant to seat hundreds of thousands of faithful that they may never utilise fully in the near future, if things stay the way they are. There are also businesses that had already made humongous investments with an eye on the brick and mortar model that is under threat of becoming obsolete.

Alongside these many opportunities that digital technology is opening us to, come challenges of a new variant. Of course, there are issues around universal accessibility and affordability of this technology. Most importantly though, are attendant risks delivered by humans, who, shrouded in anonymity, exhibit all sorts of crazy behaviours, some bordering on animism.

This season has been marked by myriad snippets of the best and worst of interpersonal relations. That you can fail to meet someone physically for weeks, only conversing on email and chat, yet still feel connected; and when you finally meet in flesh, be devoid of feelings of missing them at all. That hugs and handshakes are, contrary to my kinsmen’s long-held belief, utterly overrated and a huge luxury that humanity can as well do without and we will still breathe and go about our lives. Not to say that bodily contact is a bad thing – it often helps show compassion and build trust.

On the work front, physical meetings, often over-glorified are turning out as not always prudent use of time. That even the conferences that have had people crisscrossing continents drawing fat per diems to attend, need not take that much effort to be part of. From your living area, dressed in sleeping clothes, it is just as possible to meet other people drawn from across the world, and to engage.

The only downside to the huge savings in time and effort involved in traveling and looking good at these soirees is the omnipresent risk of cyberattack. Cyber terrorists are keeping busy with the increased traffic on their shores. There are those hackers who attempt to access confidential information and bank accounts or send all manners of fabricated sob stories to your contacts trying to swindle them by begging for emergency bailout.

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The risk of attack is particularly heightened on the now ubiquitous virtual public forums. The vibrant intellectual intercourse, punctuated with ‘Can you hear me?’, is rudely interrupted by a pornographic video that just will not stop, try as the admin would. Just like that, discourse gets derailed.

Come to think of it though. What motivates the characters behind such attacks? Unless they are sour grapes trying to settle scores or just plain old sabotage, it is difficult to figure out why anyone would unleash porn in a webinar. Besides interrupting proceedings, how else would the hacker benefit from such antics. It is akin to walking into a seminar room and stripping naked.

They do not just target conferences. With a lot of schooling happening online, there have also been cases of these characters, bent on being terrible people, taking their bad manners to the virtual classrooms. Just serves to show how difficult it is to understand humans and their motives.

Unfortunately, this is what is now being referred to as the new normal. It is how we are going to live this life henceforth. We better be prepared to roll like this. The digital future is already here!

[email protected]| @butunyi

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