Ebenezar Wikina: What COVID-19 has taught us about the future

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[Earlier published on March 21, 2020]

One thing is certain; the world, our world, will never be the same after this pandemic. As of today, more than 11,000 people have died worldwide out of over 277,000 people infected with Covid-19. Back home in Nigeria, 22 cases have been reported, and there’s obviously panic everywhere as the stock market continues to crash and borders are being closed. In the midst of this ‘apocalypse’ — as we continue to sanitize and observe social distancing — I have noted 5 trends we should study closely because they will be very important when we attempt to rebuild our world after the Coronavirus pandemic comes to an end soon.

1. From Halls to Headphones — Virtual Music Concerts

In my opinion, the biggest music concert organized in the world in recent times was led by Nigerian Gospel Singer, Nathaniel Bassey. I was blessed to do an analytics report for Pastor Nath when #HallelujahChallenge, that 30-day ‘music concert’, went viral in 2017. Has there ever been a concert with over 4 million people from all continents of the world singing along, that held consistently for 30 days? Even 10 Olympic Stadiums cannot contain all those people but have you thought of holding that concert on Instagram Live?

Social distancing has also made many musicians cancel tours and concerts, which is sad, but again, Instagram Live has come to the rescue. This week John Legend, Chris Martin (from Coldplay), and Bono are just some of the musicians who have connected with fans through their mobile devices. At the moment these virtual music concerts don’t have features or guest appearances, just like the in-person shows, but as time progresses I believe this is one trend that has an enormous capacity to change the way music is consumed globally.

2. Played by everyone everywhere — Virtual Sports

I have really missed ‘bantering’ with those proud Liverpool and Man Utd fans since the entire world of football came to a standstill last week following the spread of Covid-19 to players and even my coach! Stay strong Arteta — The Invincible Arsenal fans are behind you. In between watching highlights of old matches and many Best of Messi and Ronlidinho videos (which we have all been doing) I also stumbled on eSports and its potential to complement live sporting activities worldwide.

Formula 1 is already ahead of the curve. Starting on Sunday, March 22nd, F1 drivers and celebrities will be virtually taking to the track in Bahrain to race in a video game. This is following the postponement of BahrainGP due to Covid-19. Yes, sports is a physical exercise (a multi-billion dollar one for that matter) thus the internet might not completely disrupt Live sport anytime soon, however, when you consider that the eSports community has raked up to 800 million dollars so far from 37,540 tournaments, you might want to keep an eye on them.

3. The Classroom is moving — Virtual Learning

The funniest thing I saw on Instagram lately was how some Harvard students changed their bio from studying at Harvard to studying at Zoom University. In some sense, I also attended Zoom University last year when I took part in the first online Public Narrative program delivered by Harvard Kennedy School’s Prof Marshall Ganz. You will recall that last week, colleges in the US migrated from in-person classes to online classes following the spread of Covid-19. Students have been chronicling how they are adjusting to the online mode of education and what I find most interesting is that most of them, who have access to the internet, have been able to continue the semester despite the physical disruption. As my Sister, Oteheri Akinruntan puts it, “Online degrees and certificates will also gain more prominence after the Coronavirus…”

There’s an Education revolution coming. The mode of knowledge is slowly changing, and this is why I am a huge fan of virtual schooling. I tweet about itspeak about it at events, write tons and tons of articles about it, and I believe it is the next frontier in global education. It will change the world. This miracle of online learning is the main reason I have been opportune to study at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world; Harvard Kennedy SchoolMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)London School of Journalism, to mention a few.

More than ever before, Nigerian schools need to digitize, or else the world will leave us behind. A word is enough for the learned.

4. Conference vs TeleConference — Virtual Gatherings

In January I was opportune to join a panel at the YouthPower Learning Annual Network Learning meeting held in Washington DC. Right from my office in Port Harcourt, I joined the over 300 youth development experts to share thoughts about the Positive Youth Development approach. On Wednesday, April 1st, 2020 Stanford University will be hosting a virtual conference on COVID-19 and AI. Boma’s global network will host a 24-hr Virtual Summit to illuminate the early lessons we can learn from COVID-19 on March 23rd, 2020. In the same vein, on March 31st, 2020, Devex will, for the first time, host its Global Development Career Forum virtually making it possible for its members to make meaningful career connections amidst limitations and restrictions on travel and physical interactions. These are just a few of the conferences that have gone virtual in the past few weeks. Thanks to the internet, almost anybody, anywhere can join. This would not have been possible for many events if not for the Coronavirus.

Ikoyi Baptist Church has also been sensitive to the times seeing the transition to online services because gatherings above 50 people have also been banned across Nigeria. With the blessing of the Internet, we can transit gatherings to the virtual space which in no way reduces social interactions if we employ the same principles that have made social media platforms successful over the years.

5. Finally, Work-Life balance maybe? — Virtual work

I love how organizations in Lagos, Nigeria have been competing or the past 1 week to show who is the most ‘human’. Considering their Staff are having to work from home for the next few weeks, they’ve been delivering lunch to their Staff at home, ordering power banks for Staff laptops, and even giving internet data allowance. You love to see it.

However, for many people in Nigeria and most parts of the developing world, the concept of remote/virtual work is still a big fantasy. Many organizations are yet to digitize their processes and activities in order to enable their staff to work remotely at least once a week. The truth is, just like the Classroom, the Office is also changing and one day I will share stories from folks, like myself, who have worked for global companies from their bedrooms in a country far away.

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These trends might still be irrelevant at the moment, but as the 4th Industrial Revolution progresses, we would see more and more reason to align with the virtual world considering the endless possibilities it provides us — including combating a pandemic. Like everything else in this world, there will be advantages and disadvantages and we can continue to refine tools to block all loopholes as we continue to enjoy virtual technologies.

My final word is a note of caution. As much as we can speculate about the future, the future is not really certain. A relationship with Jesus is the only way to ensure your eternity. Learn more about this here

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