Mark Raeburn: 4 min read

How different would life have been if Covid-19 happened twenty years ago?

The year 2000 doesn’t seem that long ago, but when you think back isn’t it amazing just how much life has changed in the last 20 years? What would the pandemic have been like 20 years ago? 

20 years ago, people were smoking in bars and restaurants, stressed and unsure about what Y2K would bring. Mobile phones were only just beginning to become popular (with 44% of the UK adults owning a mobile in 2000, increasing from 26% the year before), newspapers and magazines were still going strong and Britney Spears had just dropped her first album. 

Today, smoking is banned pretty much globally in restaurants and bars, 94% of UK adults own a smartphone, newspapers and magazines are going online and changing their business models to survive and Britney Spears has released 9 albums (although nowadays not many people buy physical albums - we are now the streaming Spotify generation).

We live in a very different world, the major change has to be driven by technology. One clear thing is that the COVID outbreak would have been very different 20 years ago, the impact would have been much larger.

Impact of the internet

Today, the internet is a huge part of our lives, and it's hard to imagine a time when it wasn't. But what would have happened if Covid-19 had happened 20 years ago? 

In 2000, the internet was still shiny and new, something that seemed to be full of exciting possibilities… we just didn't know how to use them yet. Most of the websites we know and love today weren't even a thought in 1999 — even Google had just become a thing about a year earlier. It is hard to contemplate today but 20 years ago the internet would stop if you were on the phone. Dial-up was necessary to connect to the internet, and so at home, we all found ourselves getting kicked off the phone if someone tried to get online, or waiting for our family members to end their conversations so we could log on.

The internet was a very different place. YouTube was born in 2005 and Facebook was only a year old. There were no Apps, they emerged in 2008. Apple launched the iPhone in 2007 and before that, phones were not smart unless you count access to the game ‘snake’ on your Nokia 3210!!


In the year 2000, you could have spent your time in isolation watching TV 24/7, and you could choose from dozens of channels on TV

You also probably had a DVD player (and if you were behind the times, a VHS player). You most likely had a subscription to your local Blockbuster store, though it’s hard to say whether DVD rental would have been considered an essential service. Netflix did exist in 2000, but you could only order DVDs through the mail from them. Streaming services didn’t come until several years later.

You would have had a CD collection, and you might have made mixtapes by burning CDs on your personal computer, or if old-school, recording them on cassette tape. You probably had a Walkman or Discman (the CD version) for private listening. MP3 format existed, but the iPod wasn’t released until 2001.

Could you have worked from home? 

Just like today, it depends on what kind of job you have, but the experience, cost and ability to work at speed would have been very different.

Even office jobs would have found it difficult, You probably would have had a desktop computer with a CRT monitor, an ergonomic keyboard, a scanner, a printer, and fax. Therefore to set up the number required for home working would have been possible but costly. If you had to meet with colleagues, it would have been through a conference call on a landline. It would have been possible to continue to work, but not easy.

Nowadays we all have high-speed connection internet, the cloud and a multitude of communication tools (Facetime, Hangout, Zoom, WhatsApp to name but a few) making it possible for millions of people to work effectively from home across the UK… This pandemic has forced the teleworking phenomenon predicted a couple of decades ago upon us, but only because we have the means to do it. The lockdown is damaging the economy – but it could have been far worse…

Impact on social work

Social work would have been more difficult 20 years ago. Social workers had IT systems back in 2000, but they were typically delivered on-premise and would only work on a certain machine and certain browsers. The ability for social workers to continue their work would have been reliant on the council maintaining their performance and investing in the correct equipment for social workers. Social workers would have been able to have done conference calls with clients but not video calls as lots of social workers are doing today, so they would have less information to make their social care decisions. 

Today, for those social work departments that have invested in the cloud the experience is completely different they have been able to focus all efforts on their Covid response rather than maintaining their systems. Their systems have had multiple seamless upgrades through the lockdown, including key information relating to the client’s Covid status added into the person record. 

As Angus Council state “During the Covid-19 pandemic the reliability and performance of our social care solutions have been more important than ever. ECLIPSE has continued its high performance and has been a constant with 24/7 access for staff, all of whom have had to work remotely since the start of the lockdown. 

Quarantine 2020 vs. 2000

If you had been quarantined in the year 2000, it would have been a very different experience, society has changed significantly. It is very easy to forget how much has changed. You’d be missing out on some of your favourites things to keep you entertained, such as YouTube, Instagram, and Netflix. Working at home may have been feasible, but very slow and difficult.

Many have speculated whether life will go back normal after the threat of the coronavirus fades. That’s a multifaceted question involving political, social, and economic considerations. But in terms of technology, it’s likely we might be even more dependent on our electronic devices to live our daily lives. Change and innovation are continuing at an even faster pace, it is likely that over the next two decade, today’s ways of living will change just as dramatically. We are excited by the possibilities of what tech will deliver over the next decade and have invested in an open platform to enable our customers to make use of these innovations as they are developed.

We are grateful for the opportunities that technology provides for us and as an organisation, we are proud to be able to craft technology into workable solutions for our clients. We hope that a cure will be found for Covid-19 and soon and until that happens, we will be here to support health and social care organisations in the best manner possible, leading into a future beyond COVID and investing in the future.