From Digital Futures to Digital Present: How has the Post-Pandemic World reshaped our digital lives?

On Thursday 18th March 2021 Digital Futures hosted the event ‘From Digital Futures to Digital Present: How has the Post-Pandemic World reshaped our digital lives?’, with over 100 delegates registered to attend. The event focussed on how the Covid pandemic has prompted many changes in the way citizens interact with each other, and the extent to which these interactions are regulated and managed by the government and public authorities. At the core of these changes is an exponential increase in reliance on digital technology. Much of daily life has transferred into the online realm, and new regulatory regimes, as well as core social, health and economic services, are heavily dependent on smart apps, video conference tools and track and trace technology.

The event explored the question of how far these new norms and practices are temporary measures to be dialled back once a vaccine is rolled out, or whether they are here to stay and will profoundly reconfigure the pace and ‘space’ of post-Covid life.

Some of the topics addressed during the event included:

  • How will democratic practice adapt?
  • Will we see an increasing switch to remote methods of voting and campaigning as well as a growth in virtual parliaments?
  • Is online learning the new ‘normal’ for schools and colleges?
  • To what extent can we retain the environmental benefits of a global lockdown?
  • Misinformation is the new ‘normal’ and conspiracy theory is now circulated in a way that rivals or challenges mainstream outlets?
  • Have scientists become politicians or is policy making now being driven by scientific research?
  • And, within academe, what areas of research and development should be prioritized by funding councils and to what extent do research practices themselves need to be reviewed and made more agile to respond to future similar crises?

The event brought together expertise from across the University of Manchester's Digital Futures network to debate these topics across a range of different arenas. These expert speakers included:

  • Professor Colette Fagan, Vice President for Research, University of Manchester
  • Professor Rachel Gibson, Digital Futures Citizens and Government theme lead, University of Manchester
  • Dr Ang Davies, Director of Digital Transformation in Healthcare Education, FBMH
  • Dr Riza Theresa Batista-Navarro, FSE, Computer Science
  • Dr Elisabeth Boulton, FBMH, NIHR Older People & Frailty Policy Research Unit
  • Amir Raki, PhD Candidate, Alliance Manchester Business School


Key Note speaker, Professor Colette Fagan, opened the event with reflections on the University of Manchester’s response to the pandemic. Colette focused on the immediate impact of ‘short disruption and rapid adjustment’, exploring how the pandemic has affected research, teaching and home-working. You can watch the full talk here.

Our next speaker, was the Digital Futures Citizens and Government theme lead, Professor Rachel Gibson. Rachel shared an overview of the Citizens and Government theme, specifically the work centred on five core areas of substantive and methodological expertise:

  • Keeping our democratic institutions and elections secure in the digital era
  • Digitizing public services and government regulation of digital content
  • Protecting citizens' privacy and safeguarding personal data
  • Online extremism, hate speech, incivility and radicalisation
  • Social media and network analytics

If you have a particular interest in any of the core areas and would like to get involved then please email digitalfutures@manchester.ac.ukYou can watch the full talk here.

After Rachel we heard from Dr Ang Davies, who discussed working with the public on ways to give control back to the patient on how their data is used. Rachel stressed that health data is everywhere ‘data is the new bacon’ and explained that sharing data to improve care and for research is important but needs to be underpinned by careful consultation, policy, transparency and public trust. You can watch the full talk here.

Our next speaker, Dr Riza Theresa Batista-Navarro highlighted the potential of raising people’s awareness of the carbon footprint of their home-cooking. Riza explained that since the outbreak of Covid-19, home-dining has increased by c.10% in the UK, which presents an opportunity to bring climate action into our kitchens and raise people’s awareness of the carbon footprint of their home-cooking. Riza’s team seek to capitalise upon this change to help reduce the public's carbon footprint in the long term by making data on food emissions accessible, and crowdsourcing ingredient substitutions. You can watch the full talk here.

Next up was Dr Elisabeth Boulton, who shared expertise on remotely delivered interventions to reduce social isolation and loneliness in the context of Covid-19. Elisabeth explained that the requirement for older adults to restrict their activities during the COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the need to understand how to minimise the impact of loneliness and social isolation. In order to understand what the essential ingredients of a successful remotely delivered befriending or social support service would be, Elizabeth and her team conducted a rapid evidence review of reviews in Spring 2020 and discussed the findings in her talk. You can watch the full talk here.

Finally, Amir Raki’s talk titled ‘From High-touch to High-tech: How has the Pandemic reshaped charity and community services?’  explored how moving support services for vulnerable people fully online, which is happening during this pandemic, has threatened the well-being of these groups. Amir stated that the greatest challenge has been to maintain the “human touch”…the human interaction and social connection in digital charity services, something that is crucial for the user’s wellbeing. Because of this, Amir’s team are advocating through research to look deeply into how the charity sector can ensure that the social and psychological support conveyed in face-to-face services is reflected in their digital services too. You can watch the full talk here.

You can watch all the speaker presentations on our YouTube playlist:

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