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COVID-19 and the Rise of Digital Capitalism

Human beings are central to the service society, but must first be digitized in order to satisfy today’s inexhaustible thirst for growth. As COVID-19 lockdowns have made clear, growth once again becomes possible online once people are freed from the imperative of physical encounters.

PARIS – The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly made every society fearful of face-to-face contact. Restaurants, cafes, concert halls, and other cultural amenities essential for a flourishing urban civilization were closed, in some countries for over a year, to protect people against the risk of infection and prevent health systems from being overwhelmed. Life retreated to the family cell, and the burden of stress and frustration grew.

During the lockdowns that many governments imposed, firms took steps to allow people to work online easily, purchase goods without having to enter a brick-and-mortar store, and entertain themselves without venturing outside. The big winners were companies like Amazon, Apple, and Netflix, whose market value has soared during the crisis.

As it happens, such so-called digital capitalism hinges precisely on reducing physical interactions and dispensing with the need for face-to-face meetings. COVID-19 has rendered many activities virtual; for example, health-care consultations are now often conducted remotely. The pandemic has thus allowed the dominant players in digital industries to conduct a full-scale experiment regarding the virtual world’s assimilation of the physical one.