“Man is by nature a social animal…” said Greek philosopher-politician Aristotle over 2000-years-ago. His words may never have been more relevant than they are today, in our current crisis-induced era of social distancing. Socializing has not stopped, however, we are social creatures and we have the technology to remain social for work and play, even when confined to our homes. The COVID-19 pandemic is given the virtual world a big boost, and the long-term implications go far beyond zoom-calls and virtual summits.
They should really call it physical distancing, not social distancing. It seems like the connected world has become even more connected through virtual face-to-face interactions, as highlighted by a graphic from our new BIoT report. The data show a 32% increase in total broadband traffic, 38% and 40% increases in streaming video and VPN usage respectively, and a 212% increase in VOIP and video conferencing. This is not just a reaction to the crisis, we are virtual social creatures now and we will never completely go back to the way it was before.
The sharp increase in VIOP usage and Zoom’s rise to fame may seem like temporary spikes in an already increasing trend but the timing of this “global lockdown” is important. We have the technology in-place to video call instead of having physical meetings, and we are seeing the benefits. No environmental or financial cost of travel, saving time and adding comfort from being in your own space, but also digital features such as screen sharing, less-disruptive emoji-based reactions, and even the ability to turn off your mic/camera at any time, have proved useful. We have been forced into it, we see the potential, now the industry has the momentum to take it to the next level — virtual reality.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down. Yet the virus has initiated perhaps the first stage of a good behavioural change. The lockdown in place today is unprecedented, yet its timing is fortuitous. Work in technologies like AR/VR/MR allows people to shop, talk, and socialize using these immersive platforms. These technologies are affordable and readily available. Even after the lockdown ends, the behavioural change it instigated will last considerably longer if not forever,” says Nikhil Joshi, Co-founder at AR/VR specialists, Digital Jalebi.
“People will remain socially distant, but using technologies and extended reality they will be virtually close. These platforms and technologies will allow businesses to run and grow irrespective of the challenges posed by social distancing,” he continued. “The time is right to scale these technologies. AR, VR, and mixed reality aren’t science fiction; they are fully developed technologies that are as reliable as laptops and smartphones. The only thing missing for their widespread adoption was an impetus to meet and shop in virtual worlds. That impetus has come with the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown.”
Virtual travel is led by a massive shift to Zoom-meetings and Virtual Summits, which replace business travel. However, virtual tourism is also emerging past a lockdown novelty to show real potential in the future. Using increasingly popular VR headsets, homebound tourists are experiencing 360° virtual tours of Machu Picchu or the Eiffel Tower. During the crisis, new virtual tours have been created for the British Museum, the Louvre, and many more options than you could reasonably visit physically, through platforms like Google Arts & Culture.
"More companies are realizing the potential of Virtual Reality in terms of creating bespoke marketing campaigns for aspiring travellers, instead of viewing it as a gimmick," says Ralph Hollister, Analyst-Travel & Tourism at GlobalData Plc. While, Levi Hanssen, Content and Communications Manager for national Visit Faroe Islands campaign said "The idea is to whet people's appetite and get them to want to come and experience this in real life,".
In the workplace, the shift to remote work has laid the foundation for the virtual office. A space that can adapt to the needs of the company and the employees with an unlimited supply of meeting rooms, chairs, and tables, a virtual office can be one thing in the morning and something else in the afternoon, it can look one way to one person and completely different to another. There’s also nothing to clean or maintain, no commute times, no parking problems, and so on. Whether it lacks some intrinsic need for real physical presence and interaction remains to be seen, but the technology can likely advance to overcome that and humans can also adapt to a new way of working.
“The benefits of virtual reality extend to the transformative nature of the medium, which physically and mentally transports users to a different environment beyond their own surroundings,” says Rori Duboff, managing director – strategy & innovation, Accenture Interactive. “Everyone who has been trapped at home for the last few weeks can appreciate freedom of movement. Whether for a business meeting or a ping pong game, VR provides a portal to a different experience, which is priceless during these times of isolation.”
Be it business travel, tourism, daily work, socializing, education, healthcare, construction, or many other sectors, the widespread lockdown has forced people to go virtual and many have been converted. By the time pandemic is over, we will be in full downswing creating cost pressures that will further drive the virtual shift, while continued environmental pressure will also drive the virtual transition. Above all, however, all these virtual reality applications are fundamentally driven by the social nature of the human users they serve.