Breaking with the Past: You Must Live a Digital Life

7 unexpected lessons I learned from writing on Medium every week

Erik P.M. Vermeulen
Jul 14 · 5 min read
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Don’t let digital technology control your life. Don’t give your kids too much screen time. Aren’t you afraid for your privacy and security?

I understand these concerns. I really do. I see the downsides of digital technologies. Distraction. Peer pressure. Fake news.

But I have learned not to believe most of the solutions I hear anymore.

The reason? The “solutions” usually focus on delaying technological developments. They try to hold on to the past. They put the knowledge and experiences we gathered in the old world on a pedestal. They tend to protect the status quo.

And of course, we must learn from the past. History surely matters. But the thing is that the explosive growth of technology is rapidly changing our lives. It is changing the way we work. Governments use “artificial intelligence” to make decisions. More and more brands are quickly losing relevance. Many companies are already out of business without realizing it.

Going digital cannot be stopped. We all have to live with it.

So, what should we do?

The answer is difficult. I learn every day. And writing a weekly story for Medium has been extremely valuable. It has helped me open my eyes to the new world. It has helped me to embrace “digital living.”

Lessons from writing a weekly story

Writing articles wasn’t new to me. It’s expected from a university professor to do research and write papers. Innovation, emerging technology, and digital transformation are returning topics in my publications.

But when one of my students encouraged me to publish my first blog post a couple of years ago, a whole new world opened up to me. I had the feeling that I slowly but surely entered the digital world. I loved it and soon increased the frequency of writing stories. When I realized that consistency mattered, publishing a story every Sunday became a “must.”

At first, it was difficult to persevere. Coming up with a new topic every week. Researching. Writing. Discussing. Asking input. Editing. Posting. Checking Stats. The focus was mainly on finding the right topic, the right title, the right style, the right length, the right tags. Which combination would generate most views, reads, and claps?

After a while, I realized that there is no golden rule for “success.” The “success” of a story depends on so many factors. The process became more important. Medium had gradually become a part of my life.

And I don’t intend to stop any time soon. The process and pace of thinking and writing are helping me to learn what “digital living” is about. Writing helps me embrace a digital mindset. A mindset that is important to remain relevant in a digital world.

So, what’s “digital living” and how did Medium help me “find it?”

7 lessons about digital living

The process of writing every week feeds your curiosity. When writing has become part of your DNA, you are continually thinking about new topics. Everything you see, hear, or read makes you think. “Is this something I want to write about?” “Is this a topic that will interest readers and spurs a dialogue?”

I learned that curiosity is one of the most essential elements of “digital living.” Digital innovations that initially look like a toy are suddenly disruptive. Think smartphone. The only way to keep up with the current and new digital trends is to be and remain curious.

Technology has become the center of our lives. We focus on data and data analytics to solve our social problems. In a tech-driven world, digital savviness becomes critical. Companies with digitally-savvy managers perform better.

Writing a weekly story doesn’t make you a tech expert, but it makes you aware of the impact of digital technologies on your work and your life. You learn from digital natives. You become part of digital discussions. Digital savviness let you see the opportunities and challenges of the digital world. It makes sure that you will not be eaten up by the digital world.

I have definitely become smarter about digital applications.

No doubt writing a weekly story makes you more creative. But it particularly encourages co-creation. The whole process (thinking, writing, posting) is about co-creation. The discussions and interactions help you “co-create” new content.

The co-creation of new content helps build a unique and focused skillset. It makes you understand the “power of communities.” We all have to be part of one or more communities. This is particularly important in a digital world where traditional “jobs” are disappearing (or, at least) being transformed (think gig economy), and the idea of “lifetime employment” is a big turn off.

Digital living clearly deviates from the traditional world of procedures, silos, and hierarchies. Digital technologies enable the emergence of flatter organizations and more decentralized networks. Think Spotify, Uber, and Airbnb (and in the future perhaps decentralized autonomous organizations).

Being able to publish without going through lengthy and unclear procedures is just another example of how digital living is different. The market/crowd will decide if your voice is worth listening to (instead of a group of specialists/experts/critics).

In digital organizations, the recruitment of new staff is often not based anymore on prior industry experience or expertise, but on a demonstrated ability to quickly solve complex problems under conditions of uncertainty.

The “pressure” of a weekly story broadens your perspective. What is more important is that it accelerates your thinking and action.

Another weekly experience is the process of self-learning or self-directed learning. Curiosity leads to many questions. And when you only have a short time to find answers, you learn and develop a new skill: Self-learning.

Self-learning is a crucial part of digital living. It has two advantages. It teaches you to use and navigate online and digital resources (podcasts, videos, other stories, etc.). But it also helps you study and process new information quickly.

Social media and communication technology have made it easy to share our experiences, feelings and ideas. We are generally more interested in the “direct” testimonies, experiences and advice of different stakeholders themselves than in the objective and general conclusions of a research report or policy paper.

We trust and rely more and more on publishing and sharing platforms (such as Medium) where it is possible to have an intelligent debate and discussion with an interested and knowledgeable audience. Authentic testimonials and stories often provide a clearer and more trustworthy view than an impersonal, objectivized and generalized data analysis.

Personal stories are superior in helping me make choices (in life and work).

Curiosity, digital savviness, co-creation, breaking with procedures, accelerated thinking, self-learning, and authenticity help you fully capture the opportunities of digital living. But what is more important is that the “digital” skills make you realize that holding on to the past isn’t an option anymore. It has rapidly become the worst strategy.

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Erik P.M. Vermeulen

Written by

Fascinated about how new technologies are turning the world upside down. Sharing what I learn as a writer, teacher, and traveler.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +541K people. Follow to join our community.

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