A woman in a face mask walk past a mural of an NHS worker in central London, the UK. Picture: TOLGA AKMEN / AFP
A woman in a face mask walk past a mural of an NHS worker in central London, the UK. Picture: TOLGA AKMEN / AFP

A global study has revealed that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in people having a more positive relationship with technology. People in emerging markets are leading the way, especially in terms of using technology to upskill and monitor their health during lockdown.

The Digital Society Index (DSI) study, conducted by global marketing agency Dentsu Aegis Network, surveyed 32,000 people across 22 markets between March and April 2020 – the peak of the pandemic around the globe. The study highlighted how, during the pandemic, we entered a new period of “techlove”, interacting with technology in a more positive way than before. One third (29%) of respondents believe technology enabled them to connect with friends, family and the world around them during lockdown, while a similar proportion (29%) of people globally believe tech has enabled them to relax and unwind at a time of stress.

The study revealed that people in emerging markets are learning new skills and improving their knowledge, fuelled by the rise in digital solutions and online courses. With more time at home to learn and improve, almost half of people surveyed in SA (46%), Mexico (44%) and Brazil (43%) have been using tech in this way. That compares to one-fifth of people in the UK (18%) and a quarter in the US (24%) who have also been using technology to upskill using educational apps and webinars, for example.

There are still, however, concerns over the long

er-term negative impacts of tech: over half (57%) of people worldwide believe the pace of tech change is too fast and that it is encouraging inequalities across the globe.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

In terms of gender differences, women (32%) were more likely than men (27%) 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/Scandinavian markets.

South Africans appear to be using technology to monitor their physical and mental health more than any other country, with a third (29%) of survey respondents saying they check health apps or use wearable devices.

Reflecting positive engagement with technology during the pandemic, people are increasingly optimistic about the role of tech in society. A growing share of people globally believe in tech’s ability to solve societal challenges, such as health-care issues like Covid-19 – 42% in 2018, 45% in 2019 and 54% in 2020.

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, a massive 66% of people globally say they would not just “want” but expect organisations to use tech in a way that has a wider positive societal impact in the next five to 10 years. Over half in the US (60%) and UK (59%) feel this way, with people in China (84%) and SA (82%) needing it most.

In the future, every brand is a health brand. Two-thirds of consumers will expect brands to develop products and services that enhance their health and wellbeing. This is particularly the case in emerging markets – for example, eight out of 10 people in China, Brazil and SA have this expectation. 

“The pandemic has forced us to become more conscious of the role technology can play in meeting our fundamental human needs,” says Masaya Nakamura, CEO of global solutions at Dentsu Aegis Network. “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 wellbeing. If this is to endure into the recovery, the challenge for brands is to humanise technology and ensure it is being deployed in service of people’s needs. That 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, the survey indicates a longer-term trend of a “techlash” – a negativity towards technology that has been felt across the globe, in some countries more than others.

Across the globe, 57% of people today believe the pace of tech change is too fast (a level that has been consistent since 2018). Nearly half of all respondents believe that digital technologies are increasing the inequality gap between rich and poor, a sentiment seen most in SA (61%), China (61%) and France (57%).

the big take out:

Beyond the Covid-19 crisis, most people expect brands to ensure their use of technology benefits society as a whole.

While people in emerging economies have embraced technology the most during lockdown, they are also the ones most likely to have the most negative perceptions of technology. For example, 64% (vs 55% in 2019) of people in China believe technology has had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing, followed by Singapore (47%) and Hong Kong (41%).

And even though social media is helping people stay connected, almost a fifth of people in the UK (17%) and US (14%) have found technology has caused them to feel more mentally stressed and harder to switch off. This is higher than the global average of one in every 10 people (13%).

“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,” says Nakamura. “They 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’s mind during the current pandemic and should be for the next decade and beyond.”

To download the “Techlash or Techlove?” survey click here.