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New thinking in the digital age

Make money with Ads by Google

By Gerry McGovern

The collapse of geography. The death of distance. The doubling of power and the halving of price. Hyper change. Hype. Yes, something is happening and many of us are scrambling to try to understand just what. Just what is happening? Just why? And just how it is going to impact on our lives and those of our children?

The Digital Age is about revolutionary change inspired by the marriage of computers and communications.

Every two years computing power doubles while its price halves. What this means is that every two years the tools of commerce, the tools of entertainment, the tools of medicine, the tools of communication, the tools of education, change radically, sometimes utterly.

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The Digital Age is a period of dramatic and profound change, influenced by:
  • Rapidly advancing computing power
  • Technologies finding synergy and computers morphing into televisions
  • Opportunities for both large and small companies
  • A need for closer customer-producer relationships
  • A need for companies - particularly small ones - to differentiate themselves
  • The rise of virtual corporations
  • The need to share information, to learn quickly and to act quickly
  • Major challenges with regard to privacy rights and copyright
  • Converging industries and the blurring of traditional demarcation lines
  • Lean, flexible, management structures and small, focused, development teams
  • Children and adults who are day-long, life-long learners
  • Radical changes in education, work, manufacturing, sales, marketing, shopping, money, tourism, medicine and health care.
  • A probable widening of the gap between 'First' and 'Third' Worlds unless those in the 'First World' show some foresight and humanity
  • The eventual emergence of new cultures and societies in cyberspace
  • The need for prophets, philosophers and thinkers who will explore and define the age
Education Will Change

The Digital Age will have a significant impact on education and will change much about the learning process. In many countries new initiatives have or are about to start which will revolutionise the use of technology in schools. New technologies such as multimedia and the Internet will provide educationalists with new tools to advance the teaching of almost all subjects. The challenge for educationalists is not to ignore these new technologies nor meekly succumb to them, but to mould them into a learning process geared towards ensuring that children get the best possible preparation for the Digital Age.

For the first time ever, many people will have access to better technology in their homes than in their workplace or classroom. There is a great danger that a new class divide will emerge between the `Information-Haves' and `Information-Have-Nots'. Governments should introduce measures to ensure that computers in the home are not treated as a luxury but as an extension of the educational process. In the Digital Age, people are going to have to become life-long learners.

Government Will Change

The Government can do much to promote the development of a technologically literate and better informed society. Many governments are indeed moving rapidly to disseminate more information to their electorate and to make government more open to people.

In America, many new experiments are being carried out under the 'electronic democracy' banner. There is a surge of political activity in that country over the Internet as people realise that they can now access and disseminate information in ways that were not previously possible. The Democratic and Republican parties are well and truly online, with practically all the 1996 Presidential candidates having their own Web pages and Internet campaigning strategies.

Work Will Change

The nature of work and employment will be transformed in the Digital Age --it is already happening before our eyes. Driven by increased competition in the global market-place, firms are reducing their numbers down to a hard core of essential staff and outsourcing whatever work they can to countries where wages are the cheapest. The upheaval brought on by these changes is creating new opportunities, new risks and forcing us into new ways of thinking about jobs, careers and pay.

The Digital Age worker will have to become very flexible. Few of them will have truly secure jobs in the traditional sense and all of them will have to be willing and able to constantly learn, adapt, to make decisions and stand over them. They will as likely work from home as in an office.

The Digital Age company will have to prize its workers as its most valuable asset. It will have to constantly nurture and empower them and provide them with every means possible to expand their knowledge and skill base. And if it really wants to keep its brightest and best it must consider sharing ownership of the company with them.

Manufacturing, Sales And Marketing Will Change

For those products which are digital-based -- software, music, information, etc. -- the changes will be dramatic. Already, small but powerful software packages are delivered down a telephone line. This fundamentally affects packaging and greatly undermines historical distribution models.

New selling models such as 'shareware,' 'freeware' and 'pay-as-you-use' will emerge to maximise the potential of the Internet. While these models will first emerge in particular sectors such as the software industry, they will pervade all sectors eventually. New forms of marketing will also emerge, such as web-based advertising, linked advertising, direct email and an increased emphasis on 'relationship marketing'. Advertising on the Internet will differ greatly from the style of advertising we see today on television and billboards. It will be highly informative and less emotive.

Like gold, coal, steel and oil were primary raw materials of the Industrial Age we have now just left, culture will be a primary raw material of the Digital Age. The 'branding' of culture will be a key opportunity of the Digital Age.

Shopping Will Change

In society, everything is connected. As people stay at home more because they have the opportunity to work from where they live, their buying habits will evolve to meet their new living conditions.

The shopping or banking they traditionally did on the way to or from work, or at lunch break, will no longer be so suitable to their new lifestyles. Thus, buying from home over the Internet or by interactive TV will become a much more attractive option. While the worldwide trade in Internet commerce was estimated to be a very small $400 million in 1995, it is expected that by the turn of the century it will have risen to $15 billion.

Money Will Change

A June 1995 Business Week article stated: "In many ways, electronic cash which can be backed by any currency or other asset, represents the biggest revolution in currency since gold replaced cowrie shells. Its diversity and pluralism is perfectly suited to the Internet. It could change consumers' financial lives and shake the foundations of financial systems and even governments".

With the introduction of a secure, reliable electronic cash system you will be able to buy a newsflash for 5p, a small software programme for 1, or listen to your very own customised '1940s Chicago Blues' playing radio station for 20p per hour. There will be the capability to have your credit card with an American bank, get your mortgage in Australia, and arrange an Irish bank loan for your new business.

Tourism Will ChangeThe Economist Intelligence Unit stated in a 1995 report that information technology is having a "fundamental and far reaching impact on the way travel is marketed, distributed, sold and delivered simply because the real business behind travel is information". In time, people will go on very short 'virtual' holidays from their homes or offices. They might walk for an hour in Leopold Bloom's footsteps, or spend twenty minutes 'inside' Newgrange. Medicine And Health Care Will Change

Medicine has already been radically altered as a result of the use of modern technology. This process of development will continue if not increase in pace. The Internet is proving its worth here. There are many online groups devoted to the discussion of and support for illnesses such as cancer and Aids, for addictions such as alcoholism and other drug abuse. There are substantial databases available from some of the top institutes and organisations in the world.

As bandwidth increases, doctors will be able to 'visit' their patients online, and this will be particularly beneficial for patients living in isolated areas. In time also, it will be possible, by combination of telecommunications and virtual reality techniques, for a specialist surgeon in Dublin to perform surgery on a patient who is in London.

Cultures And Nations Will Change

What originally defined a culture? Geography. We were all once one tribe, one family. But we wandered, climbing over mountains, bridging rivers, navigating seas. We settled. And it was the mountains, rivers and seas which bounded and housed us, became the pot in which a new culture would stew.

The Internet will ultimately greatly reduce geography's historical defining force. This collapse of geography or 'death of distance' as some have called it, will ultimately open up the opportunity for new tribes and cultures to emerge in what we now term cyberspace -- the space created when computers and telecommunications marry.

Computers Will Change

Computers will become more intelligent and in the process will help humans automate more and more of their daily activities (intelligent agents are a basic example). Perhaps ironically -- and dangerously -- as computers become more human-like, humans will become more machine-like.

As the Digital Age advances, more and more questions will have to be asked as to the true nature of computers in society. Whether humanity is being slowly sucked into a comforting but ultimately stultifying technological womb? The most important question may be, of course, whether computers will one day supersede humanity as the dominant life-force on the planet?

The Internet: Key To The Change

The Internet will increasingly become the world in which much of this change happens. I say 'world' deliberately because I feel that to think of the Internet as a technology is to greatly underestimate its potential.

Those of us lucky enough to be on the Internet today are pioneers gazing across a vast and expanding landscape. Like the first homosapiens we will find things that are hard and shiny. Some of us will throw these things away. Others will see their value and maybe name them 'diamonds,' 'gold.'

Those brave enough will risk, test, figure, explore, look to the distance to expand our horizons. Eventually -- in a year or two -- we will settle on a piece of cyberspace, judging it to have potential.

We will sweat and toil, irrigate, mould and develop. We will in fact be preparing the ground -- draining the swamps, cutting roads through rock, clearing trees, laying down the railway track -- for the time around the turn of the century when the masses will feel comfortable enough to venture forth en masse into this new land, cyberspace.

Maybe this is not how it will be like at all, at all. Who can lay bets with certainty? All I do know is that old thinking was okay for the old world we are now leaving. We need new thinking for the Digital Age.

Nua: New Thinking for the Digital Age
Gerry McGovern,
Nua Limited, 7 Forest Walk, Swords, Co. Dublin, Ireland.
Tel: 353 1 840 3893 Fax: 353 1 840 0729

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