There has probably never been a time in our history when our livelihoods depended on technology more than they do today.
In the past two decades, a big chunk of the work we used to do shifted to online platforms, though people never stopped relying on conventional, non-virtual methods. This is no longer an option today as we face a major contagion that has rendered us home-bound.
To curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), we're all scrambling to adapt to a new way of life that is forcing us to rely on technology like never before. Working from home, holding virtual meetings, and relying on online stores and delivery apps is the new reality in the Arab world. It looks like we'll have to get used to it because it's going to take longer than expected for life to return to normal.
Even when it does, this virus will have impacted our societies and economies irrevocably, forcing us to keep developing the technology we have in order to cope.
In the coming months, our region is going to have to seriously up its tech game if we're going to keep things running while on lockdown. Here are a few things that need to be focused on:
Developing internet infrastructures
The quality of internet and connection infrastructures vary in countries across the region and are far better in oil-rich Gulf nations than they are in others.
During the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the majority of regional companies have temporarily shifted to work-from-home strategies. However, many believe that given the benefits of remote work, several entities might continue to adopt similar schemes even when the contagion subsides.
For that to be a possibility, the infrastructure of the internet all over the region must be developed further. Fiber optic and 5G networks remain quite minuscule in this part of the world and it probably won't be an option to build them up in the aftermath of COVID-19 due to the recessions expected to affect regional economies.
Therefore, the focus should be on maintaining, bolstering, and developing the network infrastructure that already exists in each Arab country... until money is ready to be invested in newer technologies.
Focusing on proper internet distribution
Our usage of the internet has skyrocketed amid this global lockdown, leaving people wondering whether the internet would crash under all the pressure.
While this isn't a possibility at the time being, network troubles caused by such unprecedented internet users are on the horizon. This is why internet companies across the region must work on plans and frameworks that'll safeguard proper internet distribution.
For example, such plans could call on governments to enact emergency legislation that aim to limit video content streaming to 720p across all content services available to online users in the region.
Creating online tools to support festivals and conferences
Tens of festivals, conferences, and events have been canceled around the world, which has led to huge economic and job losses and has also negatively affected local stock markets.
Even when this outbreak is contained eventually, many people might still want to avoid crowded and clustered events. Therefore, the impact on grand public events is going to continue.
This is unless some of them manage to take their offerings online just like Qatar's 2020 Qumra Film Festival recently did. Instead of pulling the plug on the entire event, its organizers took most of its scheduled planned talks, screenings, and workshops online.
In order for this to become a possibility for other events in the region, we really need to create tools that can support their needs. Internal systems and reliable internet connections are vital if such virtual conferences and events are to keep going in the COVID-19 era and beyond.
Bolstering tech-driven distance learning
Only a few educational institutions in the region offer e-learning options and even then, the bulk of the education process happens in classrooms.
The UAE is one of the only regional nations that has already been moving towards facilitating e-schooling while neighboring countries lag behind due to a lack of digital infrastructure needed to support e-education.
The COVID-19 outbreak has made us realize just how much we need to focus on bolstering e-learning in the region. With schools closed, millions of students have been left with no option but to lose out on completing their curriculums because there are no systems to support distance learning.
In the next few months, governments must work on issuing budgets to help schools implement such systems, train teachers and students on how to use them, and pay technicians to maintain them.
Abolishing strict tech and internet bans
Arab countries are known for blocking several technologies including VoIP apps.
These bans and blocks must be reconsidered and lifted in the COVID-19 era and beyond because they hinder people's ability to connect, study, and work from home.
The ongoing viral outbreak has led Oman to lift restraints on internet tools such as Skype for Business, Google Meet, and Zoom. Other countries including Saudi Arabia and the UAE have yet to follow suit, though people are calling on them to take similar moves to help both individuals and companies trying to navigate the crisis.
Reworking digital and online payment systems
So many people in the region have long been skeptical about using credit cards online and prefer the cash-on-delivery method.
There are different reasons for this including people not being used to the process and having security concerns. What doesn't help is the fact that online payment systems in the majority of Arab countries aren't too well-developed.
While there are a few that have been changing the game in the region, there still is a long way to go, especially when it comes to developing the tech systems that facilitate them.