I expected my first week of social distancing to feel, well, distant. But I’ve been more connected than ever. My inboxes are full of invitations to digital events — Zoom art classes, Skype book clubs, Periscope jam sessions. Strangers and subject-matter experts are sharing relevant and timely information about the virus on social media, and organizing ways to help struggling people and small businesses. On my feeds, trolls are few and far between, and misinformation is quickly being fact-checked. But if there is a silver lining in this crisis, it may be that the virus is forcing us to use the internet as it was always meant to be used — to connect with one another, share information and resources, and come up with collective solutions to urgent problems.
in China, where would-be partyers have invented “cloud clubbing,” a new kind of virtual party in which D.J.s perform live sets on apps like TikTok and Douyin while audience members react in real time on their phones.
Digital classes, churches, dinner
Or observe how we’re coping in the United States, where groups are experimenting with new kinds of socially distanced gatherings: virtual yoga classes, virtual church services, virtual dinner parties.
All over the country, citizen technologists are using digital tools to strengthen their offline communities. In San Bernardino, Calif., David Perez created a Facebook group called California Coronavirus Alerts to share localized information with his neighbors. A group of public-school teachers in Mason, Ohio, created a Google Doc to share ideas about how to keep teaching students during a state-ordered school closure. In the Bay Area, where I live, people are building databases to keep track of which seniors need help having groceries and prescriptions delivered.
Since mid-March, following a ban on open home inspections and on-site auctions, there’s been some growth in online auctions and livestreaming of auctions. Peter Gibbons runs Openn Negotiation, which operates pre-contracted auctions where bidders participate on an online platform. “We have been absolutely inundated by [enquiries from] agents since coronavirus,” he said. “We currently have over 200 live auctions in process … with 231 new trained agents in the past couple of weeks.”
As job losses continue to rise because of shutdowns, the number of Australians struggling to repay their mortgages is expected to lift to higher levels than seen during the global financial crisis.
David Scholes, the founder of another online bidding platform called SoldOnline, also reports more real estate agents are enquiring about using the platform. He describes SoldOnline as “the eBay for property sales”, where the vendor typically pays a $399 fee to join up and buyers make real-time virtual bids for properties through a registered portal.
Agents are watching what bidders are doing and can talk to them by phone or through a chat bot. In the online world, it is still entirely up to the agent to ensure people are not engaging in fake bidding. “Since the Prime Minister’s announcement, SoldOnline is also working closely with 35 individual agencies to switch to online auctions, with one agency already listing 16 properties with the online platform,” he said. “The first coronavirus-impacted auction went ahead last week, and it achieved $13,000 over reserve.
“We have seen enquires go through the roof — in the past week I estimate I have fielded about 150 phone calls from real estate agents.” He says not all of these phone calls translated to agents moving onto the platform. Some agents still prefer to use livestreaming options over an online bidding site.