Why we aren’t ready for the ‘remote’ revolution

As I found myself on Saturday night in a Google Hangouts with friends from Allard, quarantine delivered beer in hand. With a game of PokerStars on one screen, google hangouts on another, and a guide on how to play poker pulled up on my phone I noticed something that I hadn’t really experienced since moving to Vancouver…. a connection that couldn’t keep up.

Now, growing up in Northern Ontario with blistering internet speeds somewhere between 56-102Kilobytes (Yes. KBps. Not MBps, Not GBPs. KBps.) I was use to video calls not working, online gaming being a lucky break, and leaving my computer on all night to download the latest season of whatever I was watching. I was used to the relative destitute quality of internet. Low and behold I arrive in Vancouver and I have speeds I could never have dreamed of. Amazing.

All of that came tumbling down a choppy group video chat. The article I provide below from the New York Times lays out some startling numbers. I won’t reiterate them here, but the bottom line is apparently when people are quarantined they use the internet a lot. When jobs go remote, they use the internet… a lot. Beyond this, we’re not moving to low data usage items like email, but intensive data requirements. We’ve got the ‘Zoom School of Law’ running full tilt (great fundraiser – link below).

What this has made me realize is that for all our talk of needing to move to more online platforms, work remotely more, and harness the power of the internet… the infrastructure isn’t really there for all of us. If our society wanted to make a rapid transition to working online we would need to really improve the systems that we operate in. Beyond that it points to questions of whether we should throttle some content and not others in this time. Is my desire to play Call of Duty covered in cheetoh dust and the associated bandwidth as important as someone videocalling their doctor? What about a business meeting? We’ve often spoken on net neutrality as a crucial item and lambasted against changing it, but maybe this points to a different set of values we need to consider in times like these.

I have no real answers. I wish I did. What I do have though, stemming from this COVID-19 situation is a much different view of net neutrality. What I also have is a new realization that although I have been a staunch advocate for moving remote (reducing our carbon footprint, eliminating hours lost on commute [currently thrilled I’ve gained 6 hours of my life back from travelling to UBC]) I have failed to account for all the challenges that need to be addressed in managing not the social institutions, but physical institutions required for such a system. If we want to have a future economy, we need to invest in making it accessible to all people all the time. We’re clearly long ways from that.


One response to “Why we aren’t ready for the ‘remote’ revolution”

  1. Anant Sidhu

    I have to say the fact that we are in 2020 and our technological advancements has not enabled us to be able to withstand all this usage is interesting. If you think about it, we all hold mini computers in our hands 24/7 and we pay $0-1000. The interesting thing is that we pay so little for so much science, technology and power. I am very surprised that the internet systems and bandwidth are slowing down considering how much power our laptops, phones, computer etc. actually have. Because if you think about it, your phone is a microscopic amount of technology the whole world possess. So there should be a greater allowance for this ‘problem’.

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