There’s not much lef to say about 2020 that hasn’t already been said, but we’ll say it again: this year was a struggle.
While the natural disasters and political disarray would have been enough to send anyone running for the hills in any other circumstance, it was the COVID-19 pandemic that had the most devastating impact on every facet of our lives. The relatively simple act of going to work, or going to a concert back home to see your family became things that carried too much risk. Going to a concert or a movie was simply no longer possible. Instead, we stayed at home.
As the world sheltered in place and billions of people were unable to go about their normal routines, the ways in which technology fit into our lives changed in noticeable ways.
What’s interesting is that 2020 didn’t necessarily yield radically new technologies in response to the pandemic, but rather, it forced everyone to reconsider existing, but relatively new technologies they never fully warmed up to. These are services and products which were always destined to become the norm in the future, but whose adoption timeline was supercharged in the face of crisis.
With that in mind, here’s a look at six major ways 2020 transformed the way we interact with technology.
Zoom, Houseparty and FaceTime Became a Way of Life
While video calls and video conferencing are nothing new, you could argue that prior to 2020, the only generation that had fully embraced it as a go-to for communication were, appropriately, the zoomers. But with everyone unable to go visit family, hang out with friends and commute to the office, that all changed real quick, and suddenly it felt like the whole world finally learned how to use their webcams.
Whether it was a weekly staff meeting, a holiday chat with your parents or a Tinder date, hitting somebody up for a video call no longer feels strange, awkward or difficult, but instead can be comforting when you’re physically separated from the world around you.
And the numbers don’t lie: Zoom not only saw a dramatic increase in active users, but it also enjoyed an even more dramatic rise in profits. In June it announced that the service had gone from having 10 million daily participants in December 2019 to 300 million daily participants by the middle of 2020. And in August, it reported profits of $188 million, up from $2.3 million a year prior.
And while these numbers may not be maintained, 2020 ensured that video calling will be more than some niche method of conversating.
Twitch Shed Its Gamer Skin as Livestreaming Filled the Entertainment Void
If you asked anyone in 2019 what they thought of Twitch, you’d probably get a response that included some combination of Ninja, Fortnite and gamers. Fast forward to the end of 2020, and Twitch has turned into a weird playground where gamers still thrive, but you can also find anything from musicians streaming live performances to DJs throwing virtual raves to internet personalities delivering live commentary over episodes of 90 Day Fiancee.
With concerts put on pause and movie studios shut down, it makes sense in retrospect that Twitch would thrive as a destination for entertainment, given the fact that your average Twitch stream is a one-person production, often streamed in someone’s bedroom or living room.
But it wasn’t just Twitch that found itself breaking new ground in 2020. Music portals such as Boiler Room served up live set after live set from a diverse array of artists and Instagram Live became an effective, if imperfect way of amateurs and professionals entertaining the masses. It was on IG Live where Timbaland and Swizz Beats’ Verzuz series of beat battles between hip-hop and R&B artists started after all. And If you ever needed evidence of livestreaming making its way into the mainstream in 2020, look no further than the Verzuz battle between Gucci Mane and Jeezy, which stopped Twitter in its tracks and had people online and offline debating who won for weeks after.
Streaming Apps Turned Living Rooms Into Movie Theaters
With movie theaters largely out of commission for the majority of 2020, movie studios put their slate of new releases on pause as they tried to wait out the pandemic. But once it became clear that COVID wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, studios and distributors have started releasing new films directly to public through streaming apps, generating plenty of controversy along the way.
While Amazon’s choice to premiere Borat on Prime Video wasn’t too much of a surprise, Disney’s decision to offer the live-action Mulan remake on Disney+ as a $30 download definitely caused something of an uproar. But that might have just been the tip of the iceberg. After director Christopher Nolan pushed through a theatrical release for his film Tenet and saw it bomb at U.S. box offices, Warner Media announced that starting with Wonder Woman, its 2021 slate of movies would all be available on HBO Max at no additional cost.
Industry experts are still trying to make sense of the impact this HBO Max move will have on Hollywood as directors and actors cry foul over potential profits they could be cut out of, but it’s opened up the possibility that the days of movie theaters as an exclusive destination for new films could be coming to an end.
We Bought Literally Everything Online
In the early days of the pandemic, so many retail outlets were closed that online shopping was the only place you could buy things if you needed them, and as a result, online retailers such as Amazon reaped the benefits of billions of people stuck at home realizing that they didn’t have the kitchen, home office, workout and entertainment gear they needed to mentally survive being stuck indoors for three months.
But even as grocery stores remained open, both the long lines to get into them and the risk of contracting COVID while shopping prompted many to turn to online grocery shopping as a risk-averse way to feed themselves. While Amazon was obviously a player here, thanks to the fact that it owns Whole Foods and offers delivery via its Fresh and Pantry services, it was Instacart who saw its valuation double in 2020 and now has its eyes set on a $30 Billion IPO in 2021.
And while there’s no replacement for being able to see something for yourself in a store before you buy it, don’t be shocked if more people don’t turn to online shopping more frequently for the purchases they have no doubts about.
Our Home Became Our Office, Too
For those of us who weren’t accustomed to regularly working at home in the past, 2020 was a year of big adjustments. While laptops have become good enough during casual use that we don’t need extra accessories, productivity-based tasks are a different story. Where we could get away with the occasional day of working from bed with our laptops in the past, doing that for months on end proved to be unproductive.
And so all of a sudden, people found themselves buying gadgets for the home they only previously used at the office, like Logitech mice and webcams, Dell external monitors and Sony noise-cancelling headphones as they got their home working space setup into something that was tenable.
Health and Fitness Gear Replaced Gym Memberships
Just like movie theaters, being able to hit the gym and get a workout was anything but simple in 2020. In many cases, gyms have been closed or subject to limited numbers of people allowed in at one time. And at various points during the year, they’ve been closed entirely. This is why many people have not only taken to working out at home but have been more health-conscious in general. In response, we’ve seen fitness and wellness products and services thrive.
This includes Peloton which, while best known for their exercise bikes, also have a subscription-based app with a number of workouts that require no equipment at all. Apple is also set to release its own subscription app, appropriately named Apple Fitness, which has a similar concept to the Peloton app and will aim to compete directly. This uptick in home fitness also saw Lululemon acquire the fitness company Mirror for $500 million in one of the splashiest moves of the year. Mirror is best known for its $1500 product of the same name, which overlays a virtual trainer and your activity metrics over a reflection of yourself as you work out.
But it isn’t just exercise that changed in 2020. Our overall approach to wellness had an effect on the products we buy as well. Prior to the pandemic, having an SpO2 sensor in a wearable would have been an interesting curiosity for most, but hardly essential. And now as we’re in the throes of COVID, that same sensor was touted as one of the main new upgrades of the Apple Watch Series 6. Similarly, much like we got comfortable FaceTiming with our friends and family, we also got used to virtual visits with our doctors. In scenarios where we may have had possible COVID symptoms or simply did not want to risk being in a doctor’s office, a virtual visit allowed us to, at the very least, get a preliminary evaluation before deciding whether or not an in-person visit was warranted.