Digitalisation:  handle with care

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Digitalisation:  handle with care

Wednesday, 01 March 2023 | Vinayshil Gautam

Digitalisation:  handle with care

Digitalisation is inevitable, but it must be adopted only after proper ‘digital literacy’; end users must be made aware of its drawbacks

Each era has its buzzwords so has the present one. The list could include ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’, ‘innovation’, ‘creativity’, ‘digitalisation’ and more can be added not only as per fashion but as per region and intellectual predilection. There is nothing wrong with that. The issue, however, is, that insufficient thought in the use of words, spreads vagueness in the environment. Fashion becomes a substitute for content. As a result, thereof, the overall sense of direction gets defused.

In the list enumerated above, the word ‘digitalisation’ is of particular significance. The worshippers of technology have a good case with the project ‘digitalisation.’ It is an important component of the growing use of technological wares. The use of microchips and other interventions has altered the character of many ‘engines’, including telephones and other instruments which affect everyday life. Territories like Taiwan have based their economic prosperity on the specialised manufacturing of the chip. Other territories have done the same. That is another story.

Coming into India, the situation is unique. To put it simply: India is a conglomerate of practically all slices of human civilisation since the most ancient times. Beginning with ancient times to the present, there is little binding these different slices of civilisation into a unified whole. Perhaps, it's arguable that the cultural variables put together different civilisation eras into some sort of cohesion. This cohesion is visible in terms of values, ability to deal with nature, and approach to wealth and work. This is needed not only for identifying culture but also for giving people's identities to a landscape.

The coming of digitalisation would affect almost everything in the landscape. The most obvious and universal is the use of digitalisation in the handling of money. Gold was a medium of exchange. It gave way to other systems of its kind, and then tokens or paper currency came in. The token or paper currency is being progressively replaced by a symbolic transference of money from one hand to another through digital processing. For this proper availability of instruments, skill preparation to use them and the ability to understand numerals in digital form are among the many requirements. A countrywide community of literate ‘digitalised ’users would perhaps be less than 50% of the total population. Its use will produce hiccups. Creating media hype over the digitalisation process, will in such cases only compound the rampant confusion.

The language of communication has first to target ‘literacy’ both overall and in written form. If this is ignored and the digitization process is serenaded, the result is going to be great schism and confusion within society. This would not be a healthy trend. No social change process can ride the wave unless it first creates a foundation of bottom-line literacy. Hence, it is logical to conclude that digitalisation assumes literacy.

This is one of the paradigms that cannot be wished away by a policy decision. It needs to be appreciated that digitalisation is the outcome of an extended process. This extended process may take much time to bridge. Hence, the precursor activities of digitalisation are a must for successful digitalisation.

Even when this is accomplished, the availability of technological gadgets is a prime instrument for the use of methods of digitalisation. Those who are not familiar with it may respond to its needs with empathy, bewilderment, or simple negation. In any of the three cases, progress is stymied.

Thus, the deduction is that digitalisation is an important follow-up step in the successful implementation of any action directed at a community. Until certain basic conditions are met, digitalisation would have to wait. As mentioned earlier, even when the basic conditions are met, modifying them for digitalisation requires certain gadgets to be physically available in given numbers. Even when those numbers are reached, maintenance may further require the vocational diversification of related professionals. People who are dealing with maintenance efforts in general, also need to be sensitised to the maintenance needs of different forms of digitalisation-related gadgets.

Take the case of a mobile: its use requires familiarisation of commands for use of the instrument. It is bewildering to recognise that electronic devices have a variety of unique vocabularies ranging from ‘cookies’ to ‘sync.’ Many of these words don’t even figure in dictionaries, and one can only get used to them through time, careful mentoring and support in the practice of the commands. All these have conditions that are difficult to attain without errors. These errors can be costly when they cover not only the earth but the "clouds" (the pun is ‘unintended’). The elaboration can go on and needs to go on. The purpose of this text is to focus on the simple proposition of the precondition of effective operational digitalisation. It is about time the experts in digitalisation also started focusing on this aspect of the digitalisation process. This a process that may be seemingly difficult to grasp but inevitable in the evolution of the progressive use of ‘digitalisation.’

(The author is an internationally acclaimed management consultant. The views expressed are personal)

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