Digitization of Life

I have been a student of digital for over 20 years and consider myself lucky to have lived through different stages of digital evolution. When it comes to digital, we often focus on all things technology, but the need of the hour is to understand changes with respect to human conditions as it directly impacts marketing. This is my attempt to capture different dimensions of life (communication, connectivity, and entertainment) through the filter of digitisation.

Communication: No-Name Language

Historically, new languages emerged when strong political, cultural, and social changes took place. Most of them remained quite local and spread was largely through imposition by invaders or missionaries. Digitisation changed that and a new language emerged with words, emoticons, abbreviations, etc. Slowly and steadily it even crept into official communication. Most of us get e-mails with J, brb, bfn, asap. This language is open, fluid, ever-changing, and most importantly understood across the globe. Probably for the first time in modern history, a language has spread and got accepted without any form of pressure or imposing or destruction (killing people or burning books). In my opinion, this is just the beginning and I’m quite curious to see how this language evolves.

It is interesting to see that a billion-plus people across the globe have effortlessly switched to this new language but the advertising industry continues to create most communication (advertising and content) in pure English or Mandarin or Hindi or Bahasa. Take a step back and think: are we really connecting with people?

Connectivity: Cross-Platform and Compulsive

Digitisation has made it easy for people to connect in real time and beyond geographical boundaries. It has also created several different ways of connecting – mobile phones calls, SMS, social networks, e-mails, instant messengers, and VoIP. Research indicates people engage in conversations using multiple platforms at the same time. For example, a friend pings you on instant messenger but you reply back through a wall post and then you get an SMS to which you reply through VoIP voice mail. This has certainly led to compulsive connectivity through almost all communication platforms. Majority of the digitised people never switch off their mobile devices and social networks. They’re always on and they expect their networks to be always on. There is enough evidence to prove that people wake up at odd hours (well past midnight) and respond to e-mails/messages/wall posts. There is great pressure to be constantly connected (through devices and networks), as people don’t want to miss out on the ‘action’.

It will have significant impact on marketing as people now expect brands to be in ‘always on’ mode across multiple platforms. Most importantly, compulsively connected people will talk more about brands and experiences, as they become an interesting topic for discussion.

Entertainment: Sharing Is not Stealing

Piracy is huge issue and my friends from the entertainment/publishing industry are blaming digitisation for the same. They want people to pay for the content and stop the illegal distribution. Try explaining that to a teenager in India or China or any other country and they will look at you with complete disbelief. In their opinion, everything interesting in the digitised world is free and only not-so-smart people would waste their money to pay for it. Most of them don’t even think that they’re involved in any kind of piracy when they pass along music or comic books or videos. In their simplistic opinion, sharing is not stealing. They’re not completely wrong, because when I was growing up my friends and I always borrowed books from  the library and music from each other. We only bought books that we really enjoyed reading and music that we closely associated with after listening to it a few times. Millions of people around the globe did just that. And I don’t remember a publisher or a music company classifying these people as pirates because they had no way to track the on-ground movement of content.

Digitisation gave a new dimension to peer-to-peer and accelerated it on a global scale. Now, we can argue about the morality of this issue, but these teenagers are not going to change their opinion because we want them to do so. Piracy is bad for distribution revenue but it is certainly making content owners/distributors much more accountable and competitive. It is also helping to differentiate between good and poor content. Have you ever heard of poor content getting pirated? I suspect that just like ethical hacking there will be emergence of ethical piracy and content owners will engage ethical pirates to promote their content to a wider population.

A decade ago, I read an article written by management guru Peter Drucker on managing change. The very first paragraph caught my attention and it has remained on my desk ever since. It read:

In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition.”

I didn’t fully believe him 10 years ago, but looking backwards he was so true.

(Originally published on 3 March, 2011 on ClickZ.Asia.)