As the days of social distancing drag on, the mental fortitude of Maine is being tested.

Across the state, we’ve seen a 50 percent reduction in traffic. In Portland, once-bustling cobblestone streets in the Old Port remain deserted, leaving our many small businesses in a bind. Thousands of local businesses have applied for government assistance.

But not all is lost. The most innovative, forward-thinking Mainers are not only surviving, but also thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Portland Museum of Art, Harbor Fish and The Holy Donut are three examples of local brands that have adapted to the “new normal” and leveraged technology to continue serving patrons. From online shopping options to social media updates, all three are rewarding their loyal patrons with a 21st-century business model that can stand the test of time – and even a novel virus.

One of the most valuable assets for any business is its email list, and the ability to keep people updated. And that’s exactly what is happening: If anything, I’ve become more loyal to local brands in recent weeks.

But local brands would be lost without technology. Can you imagine if social distancing had been mandatory before we had the internet keeping us together?

Now more than ever, we can’t afford to be Luddites. Now is not the time to be skeptical of technology.

As much as I’m an advocate of face-to-face networking, now is the time to harness the power of the internet. Those who do can even turn a crisis into an opportunity. Take maple syrup producers, some of whom are hitting greater sales numbers now than a year ago – because they’ve embraced the internet. Newfield-based Hilltop Boilers, for example, is seeing a 370 percent increase in online sales, the Bangor Daily News recently reported. Their online sales for the first five days of April surpassed online sales for all of April 2019.

It is possible! Maine-based maple syrup producers and doughnut shops aren’t Facebook and Google, but even they can adapt, innovate and thrive.

Thriving can happen personally too, not just professionally. I have two sons in their 20s who are “digital natives,” growing up with devices in their hands. For them, adjusting to the “new normal” has been relatively easy because they’re used to ordering food on Uber Eats or paying their friends back with Venmo. We have raised a generation of young people who are more able to adapt to this new online world than any earlier generation.

Older generations can learn from them. We must all take this time to learn about new technologies and how they can be used to make our lives easier. If you don’t have time to learn now, when will you?

With the internet, we must test and learn. Test new ways of doing things, and learn how the market reacts and responds.

Even my mother, who is 86 years old, has gone virtual. She never had any desire to be online, but we recently bought her a GrandPad (a simplified version of an iPad), which she’s now using for FaceTime-style conversations with her family. It’s a struggle, but she is trying. She is learning – with lots of coaching from the staff at her assisted-living home, and remotely from her children and grandchildren.

This is an especially difficult time for people like my mother, who are most at risk. Thousands of Mainers call assisted-living facilities home. But technology invented eight years ago is now bringing together people born eight decades ago.

Of course, people still need to socialize in person. We are social creatures, after all. We just have to adapt: What was “face to face” may be “mask to mask” for the foreseeable future – and that’s doable. We may not shake hands, but we can greet each other with “Namaste,” or “peace be with you.”

Peace will be with us. Mainers are resilient. Our mental fortitude is being tested, but we are passing that test – with technology by our side.


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