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Why Digital?

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Why Digital?

The word digital, particularly in the world of business, seems to be everywhere. As consumers we are increasingly becoming more reliant on internet access, smartphones and computers to do basic thinks like pay for bills, shop and find out about things.  I haven’t seen a phone book or an encyclopaedia is years and insurance companies seem to know more about my claim history than I can remember! So what’s happened?

Yet for my “millenial” aged sons (early 20s), this is the world they have grown up in. But for my parents generation, even a direct debit is seen with scepisim.  There is clearly a growing “Digital divide”. As Peter Theil describes in his book Zero to 1, the two forces of technological advance and globalisation are starting to ratchet-up the pace of change. Let’s explore this difference as it’s clear the Digital “genie” is not going back in the bottle.
I suppose the first question to have a crack at is why Digital?  Let’s start by looking across the last 100 years. In this period we have seen unprecedented change as man has sought to improve health, wealth and happiness.  And the starting point was pretty low. In 1917 we were in the midst of the First World War, cars were rare, planes had just been invented, people communicated by letters and post or telegrams sent over wires. With a scarcity of manpower and resources machines were seen as the key to help make rapid improvements.
The rest of the 20th century saw huge change coming from manufacturing, travel and communications. Yet it still took 50 years before 1m people had flown in planes. After the 2nd world war technology and the intellectual capital to make the most of it, was unleashed. Transistors, then micro electronics were born heralding the digital age.  It only took 12 years for 1m TVs to be sold.
Through the 60s and 70s the rationing of the post war years, yielded and prosperity grew.  People naturally wanted to improve their lifestyles, washing machines and dishwashers became desirable to give people time back and most people aspired for a telephone. Fast forward to the 2000s: microcomputers, mobile phones, the Internet.  The same economic and lifestyle drivers from 100 years ago still apply, but in a very different way.  And much faster: 3 years to 1m Facebook users and 10m to 1m You Tube users.  With such an exponential rate of change its no wonder we are left anxious about trying to keep up. But undeniably we are healthier and wealthier than 100 years ago (I’ll leave others to comment on happier).
Let’s explore the nature of change.  Humans were built for hunting, gathering, surviving and thriving in a world without machines and technology.  Our natural reflexes are to protect and perceived threats from unknown sources are resisted.  This is a natural reaction.  Clearly we live in a very different world from that of the caveman indeed humans now live in highly sophisticated societies, highly dependent on machine and yet with significantly greater health and wealth than ever before.  So this clash of new and traditional, instinctive vs computer skills creates the tension.
For some people Digital will always be a threat and something of a struggle to cope with.  On the other hand Digital technologies are very new and have a long way to go before they adapt to humans rather than the other way around.  Take passwords for example, most people struggle to remember very many. What is required is a robust means of authenticating that some is who they say they are.  Available already are more natural solutions like reading someones fingerprint, retinal eye pattern or face recognision (as we humans do).
There are 4 main themes to Digital technology to explore which I’ll come back to in later blogs:
  • Increasing volumes of data and information
  • Increasingly powerful computers becoming more “intelligent”.
  • Increasing connectivity of devices providing ever more information and opportunities to monitor and control.
  • Increasingly powerful ways in interacting with machines: augmented and virtual reality

Globalisation is continuing at a furious pace and this is driving the rate at which we see change.  In the context of business supporting commerce, society, other businesses and consumers there are some new mindsets to develop, building on traditional approaches to move from surviving to thriving in the Digital world.

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