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business / design / life / psychology / philosophy / tech

'Online' is not the future; and it will never be

. 4 min read .

There are two schools of thought about the long-term behavioral impact of Covid:

  1. Online everything is the future! Online classes, video on demand, online gaming, food delivery, online exercising, online shopping and WFH will prove themselves during this crisis and eventually take over the world.
  2. Online everything is overrated.

I would put all my chips on the latter.

Of course we can replace classrooms with Zoom rooms, office work with remote work and yoga studios with Pelotons. We can replace grocery shopping with Instacart, window shopping with Amazon and restaurants with food delivery. We can swap a night at the bar with a Houseparty, a night at the movies with a Netflix Party on our cozy sofa, and local teachers with Masterclasses taught online by the best in the world. Even conferences, music festivals and parties we can now attend online.

The number of opportunities to do all sorts of activities online is mind boggling!

Exercise, check; socializing, check; eating, check; entertainment, check; learning, check.

And yet... something is missing.

People are bored. How can they be bored with so many possibilities?

People are borderline miserable. Why aren't people happy?

The truth of the matter is that a Zoom call might be cheaper and more flexible with more collaboration tools, but it will never be as engaging as a f2f conversation.

A Peloton class might offer more trainers, more exercise drills, and customization options, but it will never be as engaging as a Zumba class at the studio.

Online teaching might be more accessible and offer flexible scheduling, but it will never ever be as effective, engaging and enriching as the classroom.

Food delivery might offer crazy variety, speed and convenience but food will never taste as good as when enjoyed alongside a vibrant conversation.

Collaborating on Figma or digital whiteboards might be powerful but it will never be as effective and energizing as people standing around a good ol whiteboard with markers on their hands.

We can create incredibly immersive VR experiences of the real world but digital experiences will never be as rich, as 'real', as the real world.

We can connect everybody to everything online: classes, articles, chat rooms, movies, games, talks but connectivity does not imply connection.

We can throw as much tech as we want to these problems but the truth of the matter is that we are social animals. People don't just craze but indeed need real physical human interaction.

Technology x Future | A beautiful nightmare

Technologists imagine a future in which anybody anywhere around the globe can have access to world-class material and experiences. What a wonderful, noble,  empowering vision that is.

It is yet incomplete. This quarantine era made it clear as day that UI interactions cannot replace human interactions.

This is an inconvenient truth for tech companies.

I work in tech. We design these tools as alternatives to the real world. We have visions of mass market adoption, we optimize for clicks, we aim to increase screen time, we fight to increase each customer's 'lifetime value'. But I feel we are trapped in this tech echo chamber where we think that tech is the answer to all of our problems. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail don't they say...?

“Yeah! Work from home, dude! Remote work is all the shit! Why would anybody need to commute to an office? Yeah, mate, MOOCs are all the best, the future of education is all online, universities will die in the future.”

I don’t buy it.

I don’t care how many “social” features you build into your app. Chat boxes will never replace a face-to-face chat. “Likes” will never replace a high five. Discussions in comment sections will never be as vibrant as the ones had sitting opposite one another.

Will we eventually decouple from screens or stick to them even more?

Don’t get me wrong. I am a technologist and an introvert -socializing and being with people too much absolutely drains me- myself, but still; if there is one thing I wish COVID leaves behind, it is an appreciation of human interaction.

A realization  of how much we need one another.

A verification that we are social creatures, not screen-pressing monkeys.

I hope that after Covid, technologists like me will realize that we cannot conquer the world via our fancy tech tools, our powerful platforms and our innovative features. I hope we realize that tech cannot solve everything, will never solve everything and should not hope to solve everything in the first place.

Tech, done right, will always be an enhancement to life, never a replacement—not in the future we are all dreaming of.

Because real life happens away from the screen. And people are craving that. And I hope with all my heart that after all this is over, people will come out from the other side slightly more enlightened, with a new appreciation of how much we crave being next to one another instead of being glued to that screen.