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Study reveals that during COVID-19, we are falling in love with tech.

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DUBAI: The latest edition of the Digital Society Index survey by global marketing agency Dentsu Aegis Network highlights that during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, we have entered a new period of "tech-love." The survey indicates that we are interacting with technology in a more positive way than ever before. One third of respondents believe tech has enabled them to connect with friends, family and the world around them during lockdown. A similar proportion of people globally believe that tech is enabling them to relax and unwind at a time of potential stress.

The survey ran between March-April 2020 -- the peak of the pandemic around the globe -- and analyzed the views of 32,000 people across 22 markets on their relationship with technology, its knock-on effect on their well-being, as well as its impact on their connection with friends and family.

The study reveals that people in emerging markets are learning new skills and improving their knowledge, aided by the rise in digital solutions and online courses. With more time at home to learn and self-improve, almost half of those surveyed in South Africa, Mexico and Brazil have been using technology in this way. This compares to one fifth of people in the UK and a quarter in the US, who have also been using technology to upskill, with tools such as educational apps and webinars.

In what ways is your personal use of technology impacting your sense of well-being?

Gender differences

Women are more likely than men to say they feel more engaged with friends, family and the world around them due to technology. This is particularly the case in Eastern European and Scandinavian markets.

People in South Africa appear to be using technology to monitor their physical and mental health more than any other country, with a third of survey respondents saying they check health apps or use wearable devices. This is followed by a fifth of all Polish, Singaporeans, and Brazilians. Almost a fifth of all Americans say they do the same.

Reflecting positive engagement with technology during the pandemic, people are increasingly optimistic about its role in society. A growing share of people globally believe in tech's ability to solve societal challenges, such as healthcare issues.

More than half of survey respondents say they are optimistic that digital technology will help solve the world's most pressing challenges (e.g. health issues, poverty, environmental degradation).

New brand expectations

This optimism translates into increased brand expectations. The pandemic has forced businesses to reconsider their interactions with consumers. When it comes to providing new services to help people mentally and physically, 66 percent of people globally say they would expect organizations to use tech in a way that has a wider positive societal impact in the next five to ten years. Over half in the US and UK feel this way, with people in China and South Africa reporting to need such services the most.

Two thirds of consumers expect brands to develop products and services that enhance their health and well-being. This is particularly the case in emerging markets. Eight out of ten people in China, Brazil and South Africa have this expectation.

Masaya Nakamura, CEO of Global Solutions, Dentsu Aegis Network, said: "The pandemic has forced us to become more conscious of the role technology can play in meeting our fundamental human needs. There has been a period of 'techlove' during the COVID-19 crisis, with brands using technology to pivot their relationship with consumers to support and empower their well-being. If this is to endure into the recovery, the challenge for brands is to humanize technology and ensure it is being deployed in service of people's needs. This also means ensuring that increased investment in functional capabilities like e-commerce is matched by equal focus on building a truly empathetic brand."

Beware the 'techlash'

Despite the shorter-term benefits of technology during the pandemic, Dentsu Aegis Network's report shows that there is a longer-term trend of a "techlash" -- a feeling of negativity toward technology.

Across the globe, 57 percent of people today believe the pace of tech change is too fast (a level that has been consistent since 2018). Nearly half of those surveyed also believe that digital technologies are increasing the inequality gap between rich and poor, a sentiment seen most in South Africa, China and France.

While people in emerging economies have embraced technology the most during lockdown, they are also the likeliest to have the most negative perceptions of technology. For example, 64 percent of people in China believe technology has had a negative impact on their health and well-being, followed by Singapore and Hong Kong (see Fig. 1. in notes to editors for more information).

And even though social media is helping people stay connected, almost a fifth of people in the UK and US have found that technology has caused them to feel more mentally stressed and has made it harder to switch off. This is higher than the global average of one in every 10 people.

Nakamura added: "As we look to the recovery, brands need to put more focus on creating bespoke solutions that aim to help people lead better lives, rather than pushing a product or service on them. Brands need to think about the full lifetime value they can provide to consumers, integrating all elements of marketing, sales and service. Providing helpful experiences is at the forefront of every business' mind during the current pandemic and should be for the next decade and beyond."

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Author:Zaira Lakhpatwala
Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Jun 18, 2020
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