Covid-19 certainly changed our social behaviour and in many cases, these changes will become permanent, says Professor Louie Fourie, a futurist and technology strategist.
Covid-19 certainly changed our social behaviour and in many cases, these changes will become permanent, says Professor Louie Fourie, a futurist and technology strategist.

Tech News: Technology usage patterns during Covid-19

By Louis Fourie Time of article published May 22, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - The Covid-19 pandemic effected significant social change and per implication changed certain technology usage patterns during the Covid-19 lockdown period. 

I recently received the results from an extensive study done on the social change brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic from Andrea Rademeyer, the chief executive of Ask Afrika, a prominent market research intelligence company that undertakes weekly studies amongst people all over the country. 

Although they provided an extensive report that touches on many interesting aspects during the lockdown period, I will just highlight some of the technology trends that were evident from the research.

Technology has become central

The lockdown week 5 (28 April to 2 May) study were based on 1627 interviews conducted throughout South Africa and found that technology has become central and more pronounced than before during the lockdown. A total of 66 percent of the respondents denoted that the corona virus has helped them to embrace technology during the time of isolation. A large number of people (67 percent) indicated that they are watching more online videos and TV on demand than before. 

This is a strong indication of the switch from traditional broadcast television such as DStv to streaming services (for example, Netflix, Showmax, Amazon, Apple TV, and many other open and free channels). Unlike broadcast television where you have to subscribe to a bouquet of channels and are forced to watch programmes at certain fixed times, streaming services offer people flexibility and complete freedom of choice of what they want to watch, when they want to watch it.

As can be expected, social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have grown in importance (62 percent of interviewees), while 60 percent of interviewees mentioned that they are using video calling platforms such as WhatsApp, FaceTime and Skype much more than in the past. From these results it is apparent that in a time of physical distancing technology played an important role to ensure social connectedness and inclusion.

Poor connectivity

Despite the importance of technology and dependence on connectivity for social connectedness the Ask Afrika research found that people unfortunately had a continuous struggle with network quality and speed since lockdown. More than half (56.2 percent) of people in South Africa experienced slow internet speeds throughout the day since lockdown, while 53.6 percent suffered from an inconsistent internet connection making working from home a frustration.

The situation with regard to voice calls were somewhat better, but was still frustrating to many trying to stay connected or get their work done. A total of 28.6 percent of interviewees indicated that they had difficulties with outgoing calls (making calls), while 29.4 percent experienced problems with incoming calls (receiving calls). And if that is that not bad enough, 29.8 percent were frustrated by calls that were dropped frequently.

From the above it is evident that the national telecommunication and Internet providers could not sufficiently handle the higher demand of people staying and working from home. One would expect that the additional spectrum made available to mobile providers by the government would alleviate the congestion of the mobile networks, but unfortunately neglected infrastructure and oversold bandwidth contributed to the problem.

Many people working from home also complained that conducting webinars from home is not possible, since it demands a decent upload speed. When some testing was done on one of the mobile networks, it seems that due to the high demand for the streaming of videos, mobile network operators sacrificed the upload bandwidth and speed to improve the download experience.  For many people who had to replace seminars and meetings with webinars and virtual meetings, this is extremely frustrating and is limiting their ability to work effectively from home. 

It is no wonder that according the Ask Afrika study 29 percent of people mentioned that they would change their cell phone provider and 35 percent indicated that they consider changing their Internet provider. Unfortunately, there is not much of a choice in South Africa if you are dependent on a mobile operator. 

Online shopping increased

Quite understandably due to the lockdown circumstances and the risk of infection, the Ask Afrika study found a significant change in the shopping behaviour of people. More than one in two consumers (54 percent) indicated that they are considering changing their shopping behaviour post Covid-19.
In line with the above observation, online shopping increased significantly throughout South Africa due to the convenience and lower risk. A total of 23 percent of respondents indicated that they buy their groceries online. Although the percentage is still relatively small, it should be remembered that online grocery shopping is mostly limited to some of the larger metros. 

However, as the lockdown continues it is expected that this number will increase, and the behaviour would probably continue even after the lockdown is lifted. The recent opening 
up of online shopping to also include non-essential goods, would certainly contribute to the uptake of shopping via the Internet. 

Online learning not totally successful

The lockdown and subsequent closing of schools resulted in parents that have to take responsibility for the home schooling of their children. Unfortunately, it seems that education is very inconsistent across communities and that many children do not have the resources to assist with schooling at home and therefore experience inadequate or no teaching access. 

After conducting 2 446 interviews regarding the social impact of Covid-19 in Week 6 (4-10 May), the latest research by Ask Afrika showed that 45 percent of parents are struggling and indicated that they do not have the necessary resources or skills to assist with their children’s schooling at home. In particular, 43 percent mentioned that their children do not have access to resources at home such as a printer, stationery, laptop or tablet to do their studies.

Despite all the efforts by provincial governments and many schools to promote online learning, it seems to be unsuccessful since 45 percent of children do not have access to online schooling or educational facilities. 

This is unfortunately the result of the lack of digital inclusion and the poor economic situation in South Africa. What is, however, clear is that government structures are making a false assumption that most children are continuing their education through home schooling during the lockdown period, while almost half of all children do not have access to online education.

Conclusion

Covid-19 certainly changed our social behaviour and in many cases, these changes will become permanent. E-commerce and online shopping are growing in popularity and people will increasingly shop online due to the convenience, safety and low risk of infection. Working from home has become the new normal for many people and it is expected that some people will in future continue to work from home. However, from the research it became clear that South Africa’s telecommunication infrastructure and mobile network providers are not up to standard to make working and studying from home easy. 

Professor Louis C H Fourie is a futurist and technology strategist [email protected] 

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