How COVID-19 Reversed ‘Tech-Lash’ and Other Lasting Trends

By Lilly Milman |  June 11, 2020

During a moment defined by stay-at-home advisories and shelter-in-place orders, people around the planet have shifted their sources of entertainment. Collaborative online games and videochats are helping people stay in touch with friends and family.

Lauren Xandra, National Research Group

“Just before COVID, we were at the height of what’s called ‘tech-lash’ — these high profile violations of public trust, such as the role of coordinated disinformation campaigns in elections…and accusations of anti-competitive practices,” Lauren Xandra says. “Now, we’ve found that nine out of 10 Americans have a better appreciation for technology in this crisis.”

Lauren Xandra is the Vice President of National Research Group, a global insights and strategy firm; among its clients are Google, Facebook, and Verizon. 

In a recent conversation, Xandra shared her insights on how COVID-19 has changed consumer relationships with technology and entertainment. This interview with Xandra is a part of InnoLead’s most recent research report, “What the Future Looks Like.” For more data and interviews on how COVID-19 is reshaping the world, visit the main report page. 

How has COVID-19 changed our relationship with technology and entertainment?

Incredibly, just before COVID, we were at the height of what’s called “tech-lash,” [which] resulted in peak lows for trusting technology in March, just before this. … [Based on recent surveys conducted during the COVID-19 pandmic, now two-thirds of people] are really excited about how tech can accelerate positive trends that we want to see continue on the other side.

We’re seeing this big boom in virtual life experiences that bring us closer together, now that we’re further apart.

Everyone talks about Zoom’s 200 million users worldwide in April. Meanwhile, there’s so much to be said about Fortnite‘s 350 million users in April alone and over three billion hours of play time. We’re seeing this big boom in virtual life experiences that bring us closer together, now that we’re further apart.

We’ve seen a spike in healthcare innovation — things like leveraging smart watches that could monitor fitness to now detect early signs of disease, to supercomputers running faster disease simulations on the vaccine. Walled gardens are opening up. Apple and Google are now opting into a comprehensive contact tracing solution that they’re offering. With this innovation, consumers are really realizing the benefits of sharing our most personal information — not to be targeted by advertising, but rather in return for enhanced health and safety.

Additionally, people are really leaning into technology because this crisis is presenting a revived appreciation for what matters, and enabling us to get more in touch with our passions and purpose… One in three Gen Z-ers is now cooking, exercising, and meditating for the first time… The biggest proof point is really how much value people say they’re finding in these experiences, with about eight in 10 saying they hope these behaviors will continue after the pandemic subsides. Tech is the fundamental enabler for all those experiences.

How should technology companies respond to this cultural shift?  

This presents enormous opportunities for tech companies to step in and solve problems where governments have traditionally struggled or failed, but they’re also very treacherous waters to navigate, when it comes to new precedents around privacy and data sharing.

VR and spatial computing was much more niche a few months ago…and now have really moved from the niche to the mainstream. In part, they were niche because there was an element of fear. In previous years, when we had asked people about [learning with 3D assets or augmented reality tutorials] in studies, that was appealing for certain students or teachers, or people wanting to learn alongside their favorite blogger, or how to cook where technique matters… Now, that’s kind of a baseline expectation for so many industries, especially when you think of people who need to use virtual environments to really approximate real-life interactions in their absence. That could be hospitality or events needing to have that real, in-person, intimate connection to industrial workers, or supply chain workers needing to approximate parts that they would be using. 

What have been the most successful platforms during the crisis and why? 

I often think of the example of Fortnite. It’s really the perfect backlash to the social media era, and how your identity is fixed there… [In Fortnite,] you can change who you want to be moment to moment… That gives people the freedom to experiment with identity. They’re really discovering who they are, in a way that we haven’t been able to previously on digital platforms. 

When we ask people about their needs right now, it’s very different from what it looked like pre-corona. I presume that will change — we’re in crisis mode. But it’s literally like Maslow’s needs flipped on its head. [The idea] that you need to feel productive and to feel safe is front-of-mind for everyone. More higher order needs — like to escape through entertainment — are lower.

Digital spaces are such prime real estates for creativity… We’re becoming more real in digital environments than in the physical world.

But the most compelling experiences, like Animal Crossing, provide both, right? They’re like the safe other worlds you can return to…but also offer a sense of productivity. You’re achieving goals. You’re building things. You’re connecting with people you care about. There’s a trend away from binge watching, wasting time. 

What aspects of entertainment do you think will bounce back? 

I think all industries in the live event space…are going to come back, despite all the noise. They’re just going to look very different.

We’re going to see some big practical shifts. For major [movie] studios that used to release upwards of 25 films a year, it’s going to be about [half that] going forward. Each film will get more screens and more showtimes, but smaller release windows… [There may be] Amazon or Netflix movie theaters. It might be a key moment for some disruption in an industry that hasn’t had it in about 100 years. 

What advice do you have for corporate innovators as they prepare for the future? 

The big challenges we face for our economy — from supporting small businesses, to matching talent with jobs, or designing new skills for a more competitive workforce — those are all huge opportunity areas. The healthcare system of the future — what that looks like across global lines, preparedness for future outbreaks — and also furthering a better society, and facilitating new ways of learning and working virtually, all while enabling social connectedness, mental health and wellbeing, are critical and often discussed in opposition. 

Innovators should hone in on the most striking behavioral and cultural shifts that we’re witnessing that will persist on the other side of the curve, and ask how technology or how their innovations can better serve this positive transformation.

Digital spaces are such prime real estates for creativity… With people finding their places in these virtual communities [like Fortnite and Animal Crossing,] not physical ones…we’re becoming more real in digital environments than in the physical world. That will accelerate receptivity to some of these emerging tech experiences, opening up much more room for broad innovation.