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Failure to reach agreement in a recent international forum attests to the difficulty politicians have online. During the pandemic, some meetings that had been face to face have been attempted online. Political participants have had advantages of reduced travel and emissions, but reduced personal involvement may have made their work less effective. Traditional political skills can be difficult to deploy online: sensing of others’ feelings, friendly behaviour of supporting, joining, sharing and compromising. Creative proposing, finessing and synthesising could be less effective online, with fewer opportunities for rhetorical persuasion and less explanation of commitment conditions. 

Without face-to-face and group interaction, skills of representation, negotiation and diplomacy are in riskier waters. An effective online meetings culture could eventually emerge, but in the meantime the change to online encounters a challenging new environment where traditional political skills may not work and outcomes are controlled.

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Interaction between people used to be face to face, by physical correspondence or by phone. Then began social media with online messaging, trading and dating,

COVID19 has disrupted physical interaction, with people in quarantine, self-isolated, socially distanced, stranded overseas, unable to travel, nor able to attend school or university, nor get together with family and friends, not able to obtain goods or services, nor go to work.

Online platforms like Skype and Zoom are substituting interaction using the internet, computers, pads and phones to convey audio and visual messages, with sharing of documents, photos, videos and whiteboards.

My intent here is to presage online revolution. A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions. Substitution online is proceeding apace and in some situations change could be permanent.

Some online meetings are so successful that travelling to meetings could end. Efficacy of the substitution could depend on the culture of interaction, its traditions, ability to adapt and needs for personal physical involvement.

Online interaction is radically transforming retailing, education and health services. Organisations going online could employ people in different roles, to code response algorithms and to serve customers from premises which could be altered or relocated. Consumers too could have different involvement, working at home or at centres, where online interaction can be complemented by personal interaction, for example, in education.

Curtailment of physical interaction by COVID19 is generating internet traffic. An online revolution could have benefits for some people and problems for others. Reduced commuting could free up time, empty roads and buses, congesting parks and public spaces. With home working online, dwelling in an outer suburb may not be a disadvantage.

Because employees could be redeployed, retrained or even lose their jobs, going online may be resisted. Technological and social changes, made temporarily for COVID19 without a masterplan, allow responses case by case that could shift familiar paradigms.

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