Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

Now more than ever, humanity has the technological tools to keep itself sane in isolation.

As the novel coronavirus spreads in SA and the world, people are being forced to change their habits. They are practising social distancing, the term that refers to keeping yourself and your family away from others to avoid contracting the virus and passing it on.

For children, that means no school. But it also means no playground or cinema visits, no sports events to attend and no playdates with friends.

For adults marooned at home, it means no in-person work meetings, no gym or park visits and no music or sports events.

But that doesn’t mean life has to grind to a complete halt. Driven by the need to continue moving, people (or at least those who are lucky enough to have stable access to an internet connection) are turning to technological aids. Technology makes it possible to watch a live concert from your couch — and the platforms for that have already recorded spikes in users.

The most relevant is Twitch, the platform used by children and adults to livestream video games. Streamers make money from the platform by making it possible for others to watch them playing video games.

Bizarre, yes, but the platform is also being used by musicians or performers to reach fans who are stuck at home. And it is working for them as a revenue stream.

The performers earn a percentage of ad sales and receive tips from viewers. Once performers are established on the platform, they are able to limit their videos to fee-paying subscribers. Other platforms for performers include StreetJelly, Facebook Live and YouTube.

On a simpler level, making calls to the loved ones you are unable to meet is now easier than ever for those with an internet connection. Being stuck at home doesn’t have to be isolating. Facebook, Skype and WhatsApp make voice and video easy, accessible and cheap.

For parents, audiobook seller Audible is making its collection of children’s stories free to stream, for as long as schools are closed.

And — if you can fend off the kids — managing a full-time job from home is also made easier by a host of online tools. Some of the best options include Microsoft Teams (which is used widely internationally), the professional chat platform Slack, and the use of Kanban boards.

These are agile project management tools, specifically designed to help visualise work, limit work in progress, and create a workflow — even when your team members are spread across the world.

These tools aren’t new. Programmers have been using them for a long time.

Coenraad Human, a software engineer at Entelect, has streamlined his at-home setup using some of these tools. "As professionals in the field of software development we constantly use tools that keep us in touch with our team members. This is vital to the success of a project. A majority of the tools allow us to communicate effectively while working in remote conditions."

Others useful tools include video-conferencing platforms Zoom, BlueJeans and Skype. These allow callers to show presentations on-screen to the rest of the team, and can replace meetings, conferences, briefings and demos.

Another useful addition to any remote team is a good project management tool. There are a few great free tools, like Trello and MeisterTask, which are basic online Kanban boards.

Living online has also advanced to such a point that it is now possible to enjoy — and pay for — your usual "personalised" yoga class from the comfort of your home.

Joburg-based The Yoga Republic is making use of the Zoom conference-call system to offer its clients remote classes.

"We have decided to close the studio during this volatile time," says studio owner Claire Smith, "and are offering clients all of our classes online where they can decide to join a live class, or receive the video file after it’s done. We want to accommodate people’s new schedules."

In addition, The Yoga Republic is developing its own video-streaming service within its app. This will allow students from areas outside Joburg to join in classes and become members. This is a brilliant example of the evolution that businesses have been, and will be, forced to resort to.

There are a number of online alternatives to staying fit. The most obvious solution is YouTube, which hosts a huge selection of self-practice guides and videos. Most of these videos are monetised, so the creators make some income.

Meanwhile, the Down Dog app has high-intensity interval training workouts that will be made available for free. Many other fitness-tracking and muscle-building options are available for download as apps. At-home practice guides have never been more accessible.

All this makes it far easier to continue a reasonably "normal" life in 2020 than it was in 1918 with the outbreak of the Spanish flu, which infected 500-million people. We have more resources and tools to keep our minds busy, while practising a reasonably healthy lifestyle, than ever before.

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