As we gear up to potentially go back into lockdown as COVID-19 positive cases surge, I’m steadying myself for fewer outdoor meetups and more eye-blurring Zoom calls. Admittedly grateful for the technology that has kept me personally and professionally connected to friends, family, and the digital media experts with whom I have the pleasure of working thanks to my role at The Webby Awards, I have extreme tech fatigue.
As my holiday plans – like countless others – will involve just a fraction of our former festivities, we will do our best to celebrate. And get my son Frankie to perform and spread cheer via FaceTime to those unable to hug him in person. Which is pretty much everyone. I’m Australian, and Christmas at home feels a long way off, so this year we’ll make new traditions here.
Connectivity brings joy and allows us to commiserate in sorrow. Thanks to the Internet, we could. Like the day in September that was supposed to be my wedding day but, like all other events, it was postponed. While grateful that family members and friends around the world were staying safe and healthy, I was gutted.
My life is similar to so many, changed plans, new traditions...but professionally, I’m living through a fascinating moment. Forced to freeze, the Internet became the primary portal to safe connectivity. And so much innovation. Telemedicine is now real and really working. We stayed put and fixed things. There was less business as usual and more innovation.
This year we couldn’t take our annual Webby Talks Tour on the road, instead my colleagues and I are presenting via video conference to groups of people spread across the globe. We are the Internet’s highest honor. We’ve honored outstanding achievements online for 25 years. And Zooming into offices is new, but it lets us share a trend that we know will be fundamental to what people are making on the Internet in the year to come.
In Overwrite Tomorrow, this year’s Webby Trend Report, we looked at how the Internet has accelerated innovation across industries and the impact of that innovation on people. Some 3,000 respondents across the U.S. in the survey we conducted in partnership with YouGov agreed that the Internet was the most powerful tool to support and uplift one another in 2020. It’s become our lifeline. Virtual communities became everything. From Bitmoji classrooms that inspired even the youngest kids to engage with their teachers to politicians like AOC using gaming as a way to connect with voters through a round of Among Us to online community organizing aimed at helping the most at risk members of society have access to basic needs during lockdown, the way we are using the Internet is inspiring.
Interestingly, more than 90 percent of respondents shared that they believe the world has changed forever in some ways. Only 16 percent of respondents want the world to go back to the way it was before the pandemic while 56 percent said they noticed societal flaws that they wouldn’t have noticed if life hadn’t shut down. Since March, 29 percent of people said they have reconnected with friends and family while 16 percent used an online doctor for the first time ever. That’s huge. So is the fact that 9 percent of respondents said they used a mental health or meditation app. (Yes, I’m in that group).
A whopping 75 percent said they want at least some things about society to permanently change. I do too. And, like so many, I’m counting on the Internet to do it. We’re certainly redefining what is essential.
The Internet has brought parity. Basketball fans who might not have had money or access to tickets to the NBA playoffs were able to win a virtual seat in the stands via lottery. Artists experimenting with new platforms have found ways to creatively merge gaming, music, and immersive experiences like Travis Scott’s Astronomical which launched on FORTNITE, making performances and experiences with mega-stars accessible to any fan. And professionally, millions of people in our Industry will have access to thought leaders and influencers at conferences like Sundance, SXSW, and CES which are all going virtual in 2021. These passes, usually reserved for executives, will now be accessible to professionals at all levels.
Undeniable inequities so clearly revealed during COVID got millions to donate to causes and look beyond their privilege. Real shifts in how we work, socialize, live, and care for ourselves and others are taking place. A new breed of hero in the form of essential workers – including restaurant workers who feed us and the doctors and nurses fighting every day on the front line to look after us – continue to be celebrated.
Necessity is the mother of invention and it turns out, as one of my favorite writers Arundhati Roy has said, “pandemics are portals to another world.” The Internet has been the driving force behind so much change since March and it is going to continue to create a better future through access and equity. We have all been forced to rethink the way things have always been done, and the Internet industry has responded in inspiring ways. I’m excited to see what the creators of the Internet and the big brands they steward will do as the force of this accelerated change continues to move technology and innovation forward.
While I (not always) patiently await a pandemic-free world when this chaos ends and I can party with my wedding guests and celebrate multiple missed occasions, I also will leave this time knowing that the ingenuity and creativity of people, and the industries we serve at the Webby Awards, promises that what we have learned and experienced can be used to help build a better and brighter future.