So – once again – I’m thinking about ways technology can help us cope with our continuing need to at least minimize – if not eliminate – being around other people.
For me, technology has helped a great deal when it comes to shopping for both food and supplies along with work, entertainment, milestone family events and socializing. For others, you can add education and worship to the many activities that have gone online.
Zoom, along with Google Meet, Skype, Apple Facetime, WhatsApp and other video conferencing systems, has been a lifeline not only for work and remote learning but for my wife and my book club and multiple family events ranging from our Passover Sedar in April to my niece’s virtual baby shower. My wife and I frequently hang out with our adult kids via Zoom, and we’ve had a couple of virtual dinner parties with friends.
Shopping locally without going into stores
My wife and I have decided to avoid any in-person shopping, so we’re using Instacart, the Safeway app and website and other services to order groceries. In most cases, we’re ordering online but driving to the store to have a staff member put the groceries in the trunk of our car. Both Safeway and Sprouts offer that as a service through their websites. Sprouts has an Instacart person in the store who will shop for you and load up your car.
We’ve done the same with restaurants. By default, most restaurants want you to pick up the food inside or at door, but we call them in advance and ask them to put in the trunk and, so far, most have been happy to oblige. Many restaurants have online ordering with a choice of delivery (usually for an extra fee) or pickup. If the online ordering page allows for tipping, we make sure to include one. If not, we call up and ask them to add a tip for the person who carries the food to our car.
Even though I like to shop locally, Amazon has been a lifeline for us for everything from bedsheets to detergent. But there are local stores that also allow online ordering. Ace Hardware has a website and an app that lets you order a very wide range of hardware and supplies for store pickup and the three Ace stores we’ve ordered from have always been willing to bring the supplies to the car so we don’t have to enter the store.
If a store doesn’t have a website, you can call them to see if they will accept credit or debit card payment over the phone and deliver to your car as we did recently with Crossroads Specialty Foods, a small storefront in Palo Alto that features foods from the Middle East, Russia, Europe and other parts of the world. We did the same at Cost Plus in Mountain View when we needed to purchase new water glasses.
Some stores won’t accept credit cards over the phone, so we put our card in the trunk of the car and tell them to run the card and put it back. In an abundance of caution, I disinfect the card before putting it back in my wallet.
Books, movies and other media
Libraries are closed but they are still offering digital resources including ebooks, movies, music and access to periodicals. Offerings vary but check your library’s website for its offerings. Mine, for example, includes free access to Hoopla which has ebooks, audiobooks, comics, music, TV shows and movies. Kanopy, which is also supported by libraries, has a pretty good selection of movies, including classics and documentaries.
Of course, there are plenty of commercial streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu and Disney+. There are also specialized streaming services like Filmatique which offers mostly foreign and independent films for $4.95 a month or $49.95 a year. BritBox, from the BBC and ITV, specializes in British films and TV shows. Tribeca Shortlist has a limited selection of films from its namesake film festival. Crackle, which is ad-supported, has movies, old TV shows and some originals. Tubi-TV is another ad-supported service for thousands of TV shows and movies. Some of the free ad-supported services are a bit heavy when it comes to interrupting programs with ads, but if you’re willing to put up with the ads (you can’t fast forward past them), it’s a way to get some good free content.
Most of these services have web pages and/or mobile apps, but some are also available on streaming devices with Roku having the largest selection of apps.
In theory, it’s long been possible to visit a doctor via video but it’s become much more common during COVID-19. Stanford Health Care, for example, allows you to set up a virtual visit through its mobile app with you and the doctor talking and seeing each other on your device’s screen. The advantage of using a mobile device is that you can point it to part of your body if a visual examination is indicated. I’ve had a couple of visits with my doctor at Stanford’s Menlo Clinic followed up by online conversations on their MyHealth website and app. It’s not the same as an in-person visit and there are obvious things they can’t do online, but they can order tests if necessary. My doctor usually takes my blood pressure when I see him in the office but — this time — I sent him a series of readings from Omron Bluetooth enabled blood pressure cup. I don’t have heart problems, but in December 2018, I reviewed the $99 KardiaMobile EKC monitor which is able to send electrocardiogram readings to your doctor. You can also send ECK’s from an Apple watch.
There are many other things you can now do online like opening a bank account, depositing checks via your smartphone, signing legal documents through DocuSign and checking in on, and even managing remote properties. I charge my electric car at home so I don’t have to go to gas stations. There’s no good time for a pandemic, but at least we live during a time when we can have something that at least functions without having to leave our homes.Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.