Can the internet help people get through the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ronald Baecker, a professor emeritus with the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Department of Computer Science, thinks so. That’s why he has co-authored The COVID-19 Solutions Guide: Health, Wealth, Technology, and the Human Spirit.
This e-book gives readers advice on easing the personal, financial and emotional impacts of the pandemic, focusing on the role of the internet and digital technologies.
“I wouldn't say technology is the most important thing to survive, as good common sense is the most important thing in terms of your behavior,” says Baecker, one of the world’s leading experts in human-computer interaction. “But technology is key to helping you cope effectively,” he says.
Seeing the world struggle with COVID-19, Baecker felt compelled to act, especially as he watched the importance and reliance on technology catapult over the past six months.
“I could see the effect this was having on people's lives,” he says. “It was obvious this was not a blip, so I thought, ‘this is big, this is serious and it really involves technology."
The book covers practically every facet of the pandemic — from a scientific review of the virus, to its impact across several basic areas of human activity such as health, education, work, relationships and finances. Each chapter offers analysis and first-hand accounts as well as links to online resources that highlight how technology can help people navigate through these challenging times.
To cover each of these areas effectively, Baecker reached out to other academics and experts. Co-authors include Dr. Gary Feldman, a retired physician who served as the public health officer of Ventura County and Riverside County in California for 14 years.
Judith Langer is a distinguished professor emeritus of education who specializes in language, literacy and learning. And Justin Stein, who wrote the chapter about finances, is a Toronto-based financial advisor who helps families and business owners manage risk.
“It’s our credentials and expertise, the quality of our insights and our focus for combining description with prescription that makes this book stand out from the crowd,” says Baecker.
To complement the book, Baecker also started a blog to give readers a platform to learn about the rapidly changing trends, updates and research amid the pandemic’s continually evolving landscape.
Not stopping there, Baecker and his team also started a monthly newsletter that features timely relevant COVID-related articles. And to encourage ongoing reader connection, Baecker also created COVID-19 Solutions Guide Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn accounts.
The book is honest and direct about the pandemic’s impact, says Baecker. “We had long discussions about how negative or positive we wanted to be. We tried to walk a line,” he says.
He didn’t want to create an unrealistic rosy picture of what’s happened and what’s ahead in terms of health and well-being and economic challenges, “because I don't think that's consistent with what's out there.”
Still, Baecker believes the pandemic may usher in some positive and profound shifts in the way people use technology to learn, work and socialize. For example, though there are still challenges with digital equity and teacher preparedness, he hopes that e-learning technology continues to develop and becomes more integrated into mainstream instructional tools used in today’s classrooms and courses.
He also feels technology may broaden families’ view of socializing. Using virtual meeting programs, Baecker’s family get-togethers have since expanded and now include relatives across North and South America. He appreciates the opportunity to better connect with them despite being thousands of kilometres apart.
“I hope people will realize that family celebrations should not just be limited to the people who live next door or 30 miles away,” he says. “Invite family from all over the world!"
“I'm hopeful changes like this will become permanent.”