Incomprehensible digital world

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Incomprehensible digital world

Monday, 23 November 2020 | Vinayshil Gautam

Information technology wizards often coin new words and their jargon is confusing. Much of these await handling in a statesman-like manner

We are living in the age of digitisation and now the pandemic has made it much more universal and in a much lesser span of time than would have been otherwise possible. The multiplication of online platforms and transactions of almost every variety has almost divided the world community into categories,depending upon their facility with this process and medium. The “traditional” mom-and-pop set-ups, dealing with maintenance and services, have been speedily eliminated in favour of the do-it-yourself (DIY) culture and by online instructional videos. There would be nothing to grudge that if two things were ensured. First, the basic infrastructure for online communication as and when needed. Second, credible skills at the responding digital end to diagnose the problem and articulate it in comprehensible terms. Both of these clearly need far more attention than currently seems to be the case. This is not to find fault but to emphasise an essential pre-condition for digital maintenance services. The proposition of both infrastructure and skill take time to reach a level of maturity, making them amenable for use. If it is sought to be artificially expedited, the casualties are several. Among the first is the breakdown of systems and interruption in work. The second is loss of opportunity which would have a domino effect on critical aspects of productivity and the livelihood chain.

This concern needs to be a universal one and must be catered to right from the planning stage itself. There is no magic wand to see one through, skipping the preceding processes. The facts of life being what they are, investing in bridging these gaps is not lucrative enough to draw investment. Business by its nature tends to skirt around unprofitable activities to focus on revenue-rich modules.

The Government itself seems to be surrounded by so many pressing concerns that it tends to operate in a fire-fighting mode. The result is all-round confusion, errors in data entry and misreading of categories by semi-literate staff who do not fully grasp the fallout of errors. Carelessness often compounds matters. The inefficiency is further aggravated by a progressively increasing punitive protocol with which default is met. So results of technological default can easily be interpreted as conscious acts and punitive action follows.

In a pandemic situation (which came in weeks before the crisis got recognised as one such) in India, the sheer speed with which “policy” and “vision” measures are being put in place is breathtaking. Almost everything, from education to maritime vision, seems to have been fashioned and the rollout has begun. This is only matched by the dip in the number of copies each newspaper is printing and how much of the dialogue is almost confined to those with access to the internet and a screen.

Logic is often known to be subservient to desire and the Indian genius for finding arguments for what one wishes to do is universally known to be strong. But some day all this will change. Some day the pandemic will be a thing of the past. Some day, it is likely, the fate of internet non-users and those at the receiving end of economic growth would have reached a point of equilibrium. The lesser fortunate would have been, metaphorically, wiped out or relegated to a state of destitution. Of the surviving ones, a percentage of the successful would be firmly in the driving seat, growing bigger, richer and more powerful.

There is a distinct possibility that even in that situation, good sense may prevail. Whether that will be so or not, only time will tell. Oligarchies do sometimes have a wiser side in certain cases. That, at this point of time, is essentially a matter of speculation.

In all this, the process of digitisation would have been a strong potent force. In effect, it would mean the requirement to make non-linear thinking as important as linear reasoning in education. Even global approaches would have to go hand-in-hand with local ones. Our preparation for the future demands recognition of such a reality. Effectively, mindsets need to be tuned to look at the big picture and not temporary gains. It would require a conscious and systematic approach to decision-making. It may not be just survival of the fittest in simple Darwinian terms but a lot of self-dependence would need to be ingrained.

For the present, one could begin this much-needed journey by making the language used in ushering in and spreading the digitisation mission comprehensible. Unfortunately, the jargon which information technology specialists use even in explaining the working of their gadgets is not in a format of normal communication. Information technology wizards often coin new words and their jargon often confuses. Much of these await handling in a statesman-like manner.

(The writer is an internationally-acclaimed management consultant)

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