The two-month shutdown, restrictions on movement and the rise in online education and work-from-home has forced a reluctant generation to adopt to technology
Sahin Islam Munni, a high school teacher, was attached to her feature phone Samsung Duos, as she found operating smartphones too complicated.
Despite other family members and friends egging her on to change her phone, she was happy with her primitive device.
And then, in mid-March, the pandemic arrived. Her school, Biam Model Shool in Rajshahi, closed. When it became clear the pandemic was not going anywhere soon, Sahin and her colleagues were instructed to carry out classes on Zoom.
Sahin finally got herself a smartphone but was still some distance away from being able to host a Zoom meeting.
"My son and my students helped me figure out how to handle the device. It was new for my students as well, but obviously they picked up the technology faster than me," she said.
It has been almost four months now, and she can use Zoom, WhatsApp, and Facebook. She communicates with her friends and family via Facebook Messenger. She even tried out new recipes from YouTube for her kids.
Her kids said, "Ma now spends more time on internet than us."
Starting from educational institutes to corporate offices, economic activities moved to digital platforms en masse in the wake of the pandemic. Even the courts resumed their functions virtually on May 11 after a halt of 46 days.
Though general holidays are over and the lockdown has been lifted, digital platforms have now become a part of the new normal as people still prefer maintaining social distance.
Internet users in the country reportedly rose to 103.467 million in June from 99.984 million in February.
Moving to digital platforms
This drastic transformation did not come easy to anyone. The first task was to transform an analogue system to a digital one.
Ahnaf Towsif, a senior executive of Beatnik, a Dhaka-based creative agency, said they did not face difficulties moving their activities online but problems came from the other end.
"Our clients were not used to the system. It happened that we submitted a work before deadline via email, but it landed in the spam folder and our client did not find it. Such miscommunications took place. But with time, we worked things out," he said.
Assistant marketing manager of Apex Fahimul Rafi shared a similar experience.
"Though we opened our outlets and office on May 10, the lion's share of our work is still done on digital platforms. The human resource department made a roster and forbade the use of any paperwork and meeting rooms."
Rafi said they are using Zoom for meetings and Google Drive for all sorts of paperwork.
He said there was no official training on how to work out the new system. "We shared our knowledge and taught each other."
There were times when Google Hangouts meetings with clients had to be rescheduled and moved to Zoom as other teammates and senior members were comfortable that way.
Meanwhile, at home, parents using social media has become a thing in the new normal.
Md Rezaul, a retired banker residing in Rajshahi has three daughters, and two of them live in Dhaka for work. They used to come home every two months when everything was normal.
It was heart-breaking for him when he realised it would not be possible for his daughters to visit him that frequently anymore. But his younger daughter installed WhatsApp on his phone.
Now he can video call his daughters anytime he wants. He also connected with them on Facebook.
"I never understood social media. Sometimes, I felt left out as my daughters were always on the phone. Now, I am in 10 family groups on Facebook Messenger. I love how I am virtually connected with them all the time," said Rezaul.
He said when he started using those apps, he did not understand how to switch between the rear and front cameras.
"Sometimes, I could not hear them or the video call dropped. I used to think I was doing something wrong. Now I know it is not me; it is the network. The network can be very poor at times," he said.
New users raise burden on internet infrastructure
The fact that a new subsection of people like Rezaul and Sahin has joined the technological revolution has also been reflected in the drop in quality of our internet connections, as service providers struggle to cope with a massively increased demand for internet.
"Can you hear me?" was the most repeated sentence Sahin had uttered while taking classes.
Before the pandemic, more than 50 percent internet users in the country were under 2G network and only 12 percent – mostly in major cities - used 4G. As students moved to their village homes and were suddenly required to join classes on Zoom, the demand for 3G and 4G in rural areas surged, although mobile companies were not ready with the infrastructure to provide that.
Even broadband speed came down to 23mbps in August from 25mbps in February in the country. According to Sumon Ahmed Sabir, chief technology officer of Fiber@Home, for some small ISP firms, the number of users had jumped to almost double their capacity during the pandemic.
Mustafa Jabbar, posts and telecommunications minister said the use of bandwidth had more than doubled in just eight months, to 2100gbps in August from 1000gbps in January. "The mobile companies were not ready prepared for such a surge in demand," he said in an earlier interview with The Business Standard.