These cultural fault lines are being accelerated by COVID-19 - Technical.ly

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May 22, 2020 3:03 pm

These cultural fault lines are being accelerated by COVID-19

Here's how cybersecurity threats, remote work, maker-prompted collaboration and the digital divide are playing out in Technical.ly's four mid-Atlantic markets.
Technical.ly reporters via Zoom during Introduced|Virtual.

Technical.ly reporters via Zoom during Introduced|Virtual.

(Screenshots; image by Julie Zeglen via Canva)

In the time of isolation, it’s important to remember that many of our challenges are more alike than we often realize. That goes for regions as well as people.

During Technical.ly’s first Introduced|Virtual event, a daylong conference focused on building better businesses, our editorial team interviewed more than 20 experts from around the mid-Atlantic and beyond about how their work, companies and local economies are changing in response to the pandemic.

But to kick off the day, reporting live from their home offices, Technical.ly’s four reporters shared insight on how they’re noticing national trends play out locally, from cyber threats to digital access efforts — and where commonalities can be found.

Watch the full session here, and read the highlights below:

Remote work

Pre-pandemic, lots of companies in D.C. had work-from-home policies, but the transition to fully remote has still been difficult, here and elsewhere. How are teams coping?

“From what I’ve heard in the community, the most difficult aspect of going remote is still keeping that office culture and sense of community with the employees,” said D.C.’s Michelai Graham. “Of course we all have Slack, we all have Zoom, but there’s still nothing like that in-person interaction.”

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Some organizations have unique challenges, though. Digital skills training nonprofit Byte Back, which also operates in Baltimore, gave all of its students laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots so they could continue learning from home.

Social impact accelerator SEED SPOT also “transitioned all of their programming to virtual in two days, which I thought was very impressive,” Graham said. “One thing that [CEO] C’pher [Gresham] mentioned that was hard was communicating to the general community about these changes — like, ‘Yeah, we are still doing our incubator, yeah, we are still going to be hosting events, here’s where you can find them.'”

Graham also shouted out DC Startup Week, which typically hosts events throughout the year in addition to its weeklong series in the fall, for quickly launching online resources for entrepreneurs.

Digital access

In a city where nearly a quarter of residents don’t have an internet connection at home, digital access “was an issue before [the pandemic] and it likely will be after, but in this situation where we talk about working remotely, learning remotely, it’s just exacerbated even more,” said Baltimore’s Stephen Babcock.

Students who would normally be able to log on in a school’s computer center might now be stuck in a home with one device to share among family members, or else be unable to complete now-virtual work.

But the grassroots response from Baltimore community members has been swift, from a quickly propped-up mesh network in Freddie Gray’s neighborhood to a coalition of 50 organizations pooling their resources to collect and redistribute laptops to kids in need.

(Holly Quinn added later that she’s seeing similar gap-filling efforts from Delaware companies, including NERDiT Now and WhyFly.)

Institutions such as the Baltimore school district has been passing out Chromebooks to students, “and then we also saw the City Council step up and talk about the digital divide in the same sentence [as talking about the importance of] getting food to students,” Babcock said. “They actually approved $3 million to do that.”

Cybersecurity threats

By now, we’ve all heard of Zoomboming. But how about network insecurity and the rise of phishing emails?

New cybersecurity scams “have been exploiting people’s anxieties,” Delaware’s Quinn said. Employees might be invited click on a link that looks related to work or to coronavirus information, but is actually exposing them to a threat.

And with the federal stimulus checks, “a lot of people have had delays and haven’t been able to find out their status, and that’s been exploited a lot with people getting phishing emails,” she said — for example, a link may claim to offer information about your check if you share your personal information.

Zoombombing, meanwhile, is not about stealing info, but “pure disruption,” Quinn said of the practice of strangers popping into Zoom chats and sharing explicit or other unwelcome images. “It happened recently to our United States rep, Lisa Blunt Rochester.”

Pivots to PPE

In the “war effort” against COVID-19, makers around the country have stepped up to build weapons like masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.

“Philadelphia has always been an eds and meds city, so we will always have a very strong tie to healthcare,” said Philly’s Paige Gross. Accordingly, “we were always going to see that effort to create the PPE because we were going through it so fast.”

Cover Aid PHL was one early example: The collaboration of makerspace folks, people working in fashion and others with the capacity joined together to produce PPE at a large scale.

“We were hearing stories from folks who work in tech but have worked with 3D printers before are suddenly figuring out how to make face shields,” Gross said — or building a mask sterilizing device from a soft pretzel warmer. We’ve seen a lot of this ingenuity in Baltimore, too.

Nurses have also taken up the mantle of calling for more support and redistributing PPE themselves, she said.

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Watch the full day of panels on YouTube, and read all our recaps here.

If you’d like to show your appreciation for our free programming and support our independent newsroom, considering donating to the Technical.ly Journalism Fund, of any amount, including the organizational level of $1,000.

Philly Tech Week 2020 is more like Philly Tech Year, with more virtual events like this coming throughout the next few months. Get updates on speakers, sessions, attendee specials and more by signing up for #PTW20 emails today:

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