Current events

"New normality" and its effects on ICT use


Photo: Julia M Cameron/Pexels

Gabriel Ubieto
UOC researchers take part in an international study on the COVID-19 crisis' impact on social relations

The rollercoaster that the COVID-19 pandemic has set us on in almost all areas of our lives has the authorities referring to life after the state of emergency as the "new normality". The economy, politics, family relationships... It is as though nothing will be the same post-coronavirus. But what exactly will this "new normality" be like? How are people interacting with one another during the lockdown, and how will they do so once it is over? What role does and will technology play when all is said and done? Will we live more solitary lives once the crisis is behind us? These are some of the questions the UOC will be analysing as part of an international study led by the Open University.

As Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol, co-director of the Communication Networks & Social Change (CNSC) research group, part of the UOC's Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3), said: "The lockdown and social distancing have forced us to redefine how we interact with the world around us. This study therefore wants to analyse how the COVID-19 crisis has transformed how we socialize." Some of the new social habits we are seeing with the lockdown are balcony get-togethers among building residents, videochats as a way of getting around the prohibition on gatherings and teleworking, which for many is a first-time experience. The international team behind the study, led by Open University (UK) researchers Hannah Marston and Sarah Earle, is interested in studying these new social relations in greater detail and pinpointing their differences and similarities from country to country around the world.

To help them meet their goal, they have launched a 30-minute anonymous online survey, COVID-19: Technology, Social Connections, Loneliness & Leisure Activities.

The UOC is proud to be joining universities and research centres from places around the world like India, France and Germany in the project, where it will have the chance to work with professionals in the fields of digital technology, communication, ageing studies, the sociology of leisure and health, among others. Regarding the scope of the project, Fernández-Ardèvol said that "the possibility of obtaining data that are comparable on an international scale will only serve to enrich the analysis," and to make sure the survey reaches as many people as possible, the researchers are encouraging participants and anyone else who is interested to spread the word on social media with the hashtags #COVID19Connexions and #COVID19.

As with any crisis, the one brought about by COVID-19 probably will not affect everyone in the same way. It stands to reason that, just as not everyone used or had access to digital technologies in the same way before the outbreak, their use and accessibility will differ from person to person in the "new normality". Just how they will differ is what the UOC and other universities want to clarify. As Fernández-Ardèvol explained, "Our life has suddenly become much more digital, but not everyone has the same tools or digital skills for adapting to the change."

The study will therefore look at the inequalities that may worsen or improve in terms of gender, age, class or other variables during the coronavirus crisis. For its part, the survey will allow the experts to analyse the community aspect of the COVID-19 experience and its impact on health, well-being and the varying degrees of social ties that individuals have with those around them. "We can get a feel for the overall trend, we're living it first-hand, but we don't know all the details," said Fernández-Ardèvol.

That is why the international project wants to analyse the social effects of a little-understood pandemic which may not be humanity's last. In the words of the researcher: "We have to understand the transformation taking place today in order to know how to act in the coming months and years, which is why we want to share the conclusions with not just the scientific community but also social agents and the general population. We need to jointly reflect on this exceptional situation to decide in which direction we want to go."


About UOC R&I

The UOC’s research and innovation (R&I) contribute to solving the challenges facing the global societies of the 21st century by studying ICTs’ interactions with human activity, with a specific focus on e-learning and e-health. Over 400 researchers and 48 research groups work among the University’s seven faculties and three research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3), the eLearn Center (eLC) and the eHealth Center (eHC).

The United Nations 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals and open knowledge provide strategic pillars on which the UOC’s teaching, research and innovation are built. For more information: