How To Explain Digitalization?

Currently, everyone is caught up in this mega trend called “Digitalization.” Every company started initiatives around this topic; they began to put out prototypes of new products, offering new services or simply renamed items on their portfolio to fit this new hype. However, what is digitalization?

I recently got ask, how would you explain digitalization to someone? What is it is core ingredient and why are we doing this?

If you ask me, I will try to make this sound as simple as possible. A tangible statement that describes such a virtual process in human history. My definition of digitalization is this:

It is the ongoing process of transforming our behavior of how we create, consume and curate information and knowledge from an analog state (hardware) towards a digital state (software).

It goes back hundreds of years

To give this sentence a bit more context. When you think about it, every time, humanity was able to change the way information was handled, they were jumping ahead of time. Reflect on this, in my understanding, the first digitalization started with the printing press by Gutenberg. Suddenly there was a way to print books within days instead of months. His innovation allowed people to share their knowledge faster. Reading, which was once only accessible to priests or the wealthy, was now a common skill. It was as early as the 1500’s that we started to become digital.

In the early 1900’s the radio became popular during the first World War. Suddenly people were able to communicate with each other with mere endless distances between them. Knowledge was not longer confound to books or static means, it could be transmitted throughout the globe. Listening to the radio made it possible to engage with different countries and cultures. It evolved us, it gave us widespread music, a new tool to learn from. Where books were tangible and you could see and feel the pages, radio was a box and its products were invisible. You could only listen to them.

We are visually focused creatures

The rise of the television set marked a new era for consuming information. As usual, there was resistance among people, the radio was the dominant form of communication and entertainment, “who would buy a television?” they said. If you think about it, we have a similar culture shift today. The internet is stigmatized as this evil platform that promotes violence, hate and strips us of our privacy. Data is collected, sold and stolen. So was the television perceived during its first appearance. But we all know now that the television, first in black and white, was the medium of the future. I would have loved to watch the Moon landing live on tv. Something that a radio was simply not able to deliver. Later the color TVs enabled us to dream in color as well and it became the sensation of the second half of the 20th century.

The rise of Information

In the mid-90s the consumer (!) internet began to establish itself as a new way of life. Computers were coming into the mainstream, and nearly every household had one. The technology for the internet was gifted to the population, and so the digital age reached its peak. Today, kids grow up in this world; they do not even know what a world without the internet would look like. Probably you cannot quite grasp it, just like me.

Technology has changed the way we interact with information. Today, everyone is a creator, narrator, the director of his or her life. The internet has become a commodity and with it a whole new lifestyle.

Almost everything is digital now. Cameras, music recorders, TVs, telephones, etc. You once needed 20 different devices for all those purposes; you need only one, the smartphone. Also, the journey is far from over.

A future with cybernetics and digital enhancements

The next step for us, on our way to becoming more intertwined with information, is to become information ourselves. What do I mean? The next logical step for us is to transform the last remaining analog item, the smartphone, and implement it in our bodies. The past 20 years were used to create a platform that got smaller and smaller to integrate more and more information, technology, and functions. Why would you carry a phone in 2040, when everything you do happens with a press of your fingertip? Everything stored inside your body, fingers prints, and neural waves? Films like Gattaca come to mind, don’t you think?

Well, that got dark pretty fast. Anyhow, I think that we still don’t have a chance of understanding what lies before us. I read an article last week that said something like, if interstellar travel is not a thing in a few decades, Elon Musk will find that depressing. I couldn’t find that interview again, but I have to agree with that statement. Earth is fantastic, but wouldn’t it be nice to see something else for a change?

So what is next?

To bring this article to an end, I think that we are still just half way there to the finish line. The internet is just maturing and entering its prime as a platform. Remember, it’s really just about 20 now, puberty is over, now begins the real journey. Virtual reality and augmented reality are on the horizon and platforms like Facebook or Youtube already work like a second Google for most people. This is kind of a meta-internet if you will.

What is your take on this? Do you agree with my explanation and definition of digitalization? If not, what should be different?

I’d also like to discuss future developments in technology, so if you want, leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading!

Sebastian


Originally published at www.sebarsch.com.