Milton Friedman called it the tyranny of the status quo. It is a resistance to change that imprisons us in the moment and blinds us to potential. Yet, despite it all, innovation proves inevitable and change is often thrust upon us, quickly transforming the norm. We subsequently acclimate to the change to which we first resisted and suddenly find that going back is incomprehensible.
At times, this transformation happens slowly, other times quickly, but not since the world wars and the Spanish Flu has the world been forced to adapt as quickly as it has in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The status quo around how we interact both socially and professionally has changed. Even slow-moving, archaic organizations such as the judicial and regulatory branches have seen their day-to-day transition to Zoom meeting rooms and online chats. Many of these changes will most likely become permanent as companies are unable or unwilling to roll back the clock when the pandemic abides.
I predict that the lasting effects of these changes will have a dramatic impact on the emerging decentralized technology industry.
Already, we see numerous examples of a shifting status quo and popular resistance towards regression. Take, for example Israeli resident doctors who, as a result of safety measures, have seen their schedules reduced from typical grueling 26-hour shifts to 12-hour ones. For years, they were told that 26-hour shifts were absolutely necessary. The last two months have proven otherwise. Attempts now to return to the 26-hour shifts have been met with protests, with doctors citing higher rates of depression and road accidents as well as lower productivity resulting from the previous demands.
The future of work is remote
Nowhere has this shifting status quo been clearer than with the global embrace of remote work. Even before the outbreak, remote work was on the rise as companies began understanding that remote employees were cheaper and happier. But in light of the quarantine measures, the world has embraced remote work in a way that, while perhaps inevitable, was likely still years away. Amazon recently permitted employees to keep working remotely for five more months until October. United States courts have begun performing traditionally in-person proceedings via Zoom, and various governmental proceedings have been conducted remotely. Even standardized testing is evolving as both the College Board’s AP Exams and the ACT Test, designed for high school students, will be conducted online this year.
This seems to be setting a new precedent. It’s clear that the world is entering a remote work renaissance. Organizations have been forced to adopt digital solutions to remain productive and have taken risks by conducting sensitive meetings and operations online. This isn’t without its own host of challenges. The lack of uniform digital identity standards today makes confirming identities online difficult.
The unprecedented digitalization has presented obstacles of its own. The College Board is using seemingly archaic methods to overcome the challenge of standardized test cheating. They will be sending test results to students’ teachers so that a comparison can be made against previous work to prevent fraud. Meanwhile, governmental and judicial proceedings have struggled with what they call “Zoombombers” — the Zoom equivalent of a sports game streaker. The anonymity of our online world today means there’s no person for the security personnel to tackle. Is this the best we can do?
Securing our digital future
As much as COVID-19 has highlighted how our digital future might look, it has also highlighted the limitations of our existing technologies. This is a common result of massive leaps taken forward. For example, take the Spanish Flu’s impact on emerging technologies. The virus struck before the true power of the telephone could be realized, given that throughout the 1920s, only 35% of U.S. homes had a telephone. But even still, its potential was made clear by quarantining and social-distancing measures. In 1919, news was frequently disseminated via Stereopticon bulletins, projectors that would broadcast the news on screens in public areas. This was generally how election results were announced. Obviously, large public gatherings were a problem given the rampaging flu, so as a result, the public bulletins were canceled and some news agencies told people to call in to the station for the election results.
While the Spanish Flu did highlight the potential of remote communication, it also highlighted some of the limitations of the early technology. Without answering machines, every call had to be taken and telecommunication companies even appealed to people to keep the lines clear for only emergencies. Additionally, the quarantine measures disrupted the physical teams operating the switchboards, leaving many lines useless.
These examples elucidate two points quite clearly about our near-future digital reality. The first is that we desperately need identity solutions that accurately tie together physical and digital identities. These identity measures are critical for keeping people accountable for online behaviors, especially as more professional interactions transition to the web.
Second, we will need responsible and secure protocols to manage this incoming wave of sensitive data. Consider all of the pertinent records, such as governmental or court transcripts that must now be recorded and stored online. As companies and organizations transition, they will facilitate an enormous transfer of sensitive interactions to vulnerable centralized data silos. The much-discussed weaknesses of centralized data structures will become more relevant, further requiring immutable and secure data storage systems. Even data associated with digital identities, such as biometrics, will need safe keeping.
So here we are in 2020 with our modern-day versions of switchboards. The Spanish Flu made clear how telecommunications might need to change. COVID-19 is exposing how our data storage and identity systems need to change. Some organizations will return back to their original way of doing business, but many won’t. And those that do return will struggle to compete with companies who embrace this new reality. Solutions are necessary for creating more secure and trustworthy digital communication and data storage systems.
This is where blockchain and other decentralized technologies have so much to gain from this technological revolution. In many ways, blockchain advocates foresaw this digital migration and have been focused on forging the foundational tools and systems necessary for a secure web. Now it’s happening at a blazing speed, and the world is struggling to keep up.
This transition represents an enormous opportunity for blockchain-based projects, specifically those offering permissioned environments and digital identity solutions. This does not mean that blockchain won’t encounter challenges. Undoubtedly, this time will also highlight many of the inefficiencies and limitations of truly decentralized systems. As with the telephone, this period will be an opportunity for teams and projects to learn and adapt, preparing for the next wave of digital usership. What is clear is that the world has jumped forward and will not be taking a step back. There is a new status quo with new rules and new demands. The new status quo demands decentralized technology.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Noam Levenson is a writer who covers topics such as the future of money, emerging technologies and the next-generation web. When Noam isn’t writing about the intersection of economics and technology, he’s following that entrepreneurial drive toward projects that some might call “eccentric.” Beyond that, he can usually be found scrambling up mountains.