In short, rapid innovations in learning, working, and living online could be a silver lining. Welcome to the 21st century we dreamed about 30 years ago but never quite had the energy or focus to actually implement. Since the 1990s, champions of what was then called cyberspace and digital culture prophesied about “creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.” Every issue of the early Wired promised a peaceful “Digital Revolution” that would whip “through our lives like a Bengali typhoon” and create real and virtual worlds in which we could let our 3D-printed freak flags fly however we chose…

The changes that persist after the crisis has passed could, finally, radically change how we work and learn, get medical care, shop, and consume popular culture as more and more of our lives will take place online and, hopefully, on our own personalized terms.

Over 30 states have shuttered K-12 public schools and districts everywhere are scrambling to figure out how to implement distance-learning programs to salvage some semblance of continuing instruction. Colleges across the country have canceled classes at least through the end of March and it seems iffy whether they will return at all for the spring semester. Educational institutions at all levels are scrambling to ramp up their ability to stream classes, which is not just a bandwidth issue but one of preparing instructors on how to teach and students to learn via the internet. While participation in distance learning has grown by leaps and bounds since 2000, fewer than 6 percent of all public K-12 students take a majority of all their courses online. There’s every reason to believe that once they get a sense of the flexibility and offerings available, those numbers will rise substantially.