No-one should be left behind by the digital revolution

The world is becoming increasingly digital and transforming before our very eyes.

In the developed world, hundreds of millions carry smartphones that are hundreds of times more powerful than a Pentium computer of twenty years ago. They do not have a mobile device in their pocket but a super computer that enables the individual to be so empowered that they require companies and governments to pay attention.

In less developed countries like India, falling prices are allowing hundreds of millions of people to get connected.

A truly transformational time.

All these digital devices which are connected to each other in myriad of ways including social networks are creating a torrent of data and content which only powerful algorithms, intricate math models and innovative ways of storing and accessing data can draw insight and action.

A time that will create a renaissance of knowledge should bring markets and opportunities to billions and lift society and humanity to greater heights.

But in this silicon driven digital world we should not forget the individuals that are still analog citizens. This reality if often ignored, and we overlook:

  1. People are analog. They have feelings and think not in a binary and logical yes or no but in a spectrum of “maybes” and “what ifs”. They compute a bit but feel a lot more. They choose with their hearts and use numbers to justify their actions. They look for meaning and stories that allow them to compose an interior narrative that helps make sense of the world.
  2. Change is difficult to accept and adapt to: So often we hear about how great the world of change is but we know that change is difficult because it means learning new things, letting go of old habits and being comfortable with stumbling. Human beings are creatures of habit and routine and cannot be upgraded or rebooted like machines. Moving from a current to future state is a journey not a quantum leap.
  3. Technological advances are outstripping human capacity to keep up: At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, just as 4 K television sets began to appear on the floor, the first 8 K televisions were announced. The iPhone 6s is between 70 and 90% more powerful than the iPhone of 6-12 months ago. The speed of change is outstripping human capacity to keep up. Every day we are inundated with more content, more email, more social networks. Increasingly, hotels and spas that take away your electronics for a fee are ultra popular. We want to go back to a silent existence, with less connectivity.
  4. Privacy and security issues are raising heightened worries about data: Today almost two in five millennials are using ad blockers. People are beginning to understand that their phones may be able to testify against them. Data enables better and more customized services and relevance but who has the data, who uses it and who monetizes it will become the big issue of the future.
  5. We desperately hope that we are not a number: Today, advanced algorithms working on our individual data exhaust can often predict what we will like and almost anticipate our next move. Over a third of Amazon sales are driven by its recommendation engine and there is a 70% likelihood that your next movie on Netflix will be what their algorithms suggest. This reality makes us feel a loss of agency. To be reduced to a set of numbers is beginning to concern people. Are we just a compilation of data points in human skin?

So what should organizations and individuals do?

  1. Invest in transparency and education: Organizations now need to better educate people on how they leverage data and what they are doing with technology to enable better and more relevant solutions. They need to let individuals interrogate and correct and speak back. They need to invest in technology and other training and recognize it takes time for people to adapt.   
  1. Share and align incentives: As organizations change they should remember that people change their behaviours when they are incented to and not because change is good or they are threatened. Promote and reward those who embrace change and when one profits from their data or advanced behaviors share the resulting benefits. Otherwise people will resent organizations.
  1. Tell stories: Machines like facts and data but people are stirred and inspired by stories and examples. In this modern communication age we should not just focus on the plumbing but on the poetry.

The future brought about by digital technology is bright but it is important not to forget that analog humans need to be inspired, allowed to participate and gain and benefit their fair share of the new world order.

Author: Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Strategist, Publicis Groupe.

This post is published as part of a blog series by the Human Implications of Digital Media project.

Image: A woman touches an interactive touch screen at the Acer global news conference in New York, November 23, 2010. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Leave a Reply