Among many responses to the to the unfolding phenomena of a digital economy there are two that stand out. The first, is “yes, we will be enmeshed in a full digital economy by 2050”. The other, and more phlegmatic, response is “potentially, we could be enmeshed in a fully digital economy by 2050”. Upon examining the reasons for the less than full hearted second response, we reveal the forces arrayed against change. What follows is an assessment of the second response.
Consider the fields of human affairs in which we are experiencing change. There’s environmental change, shifts in international and domestic politics, technological advances and the constant innovation in the health and human services sectors. Let us not neglect the spheres of finance, education, and governance. The list goes on. Trends, change and drivers of change. All threads in the dynamic tapestry of early 21st Century life.
In among all of this we are examining the digital economy and who and what is stymieing what some would call progress to the realisation of a fully digital economy in the decades ahead.
Asking questions is the key to this examination. Questions like: who benefits from the status quo and who loses if we go fully digital? What are the social, political, economic, legal, environmental or technological barriers to realising a fully digital economy? Are cultural worldviews and belief systems the obstacles in the path to building an economy that is fully digital?
Turning firstly to the status quo. Benefiting from the status quo are those whose influence, power and profit are founded on the world of atoms. If these attributes of prominence do not translate to the world of bits change is resisted. Remember the retailers of a few years back? To them the internet was but a passing fad. They saw no need to embrace the digital economy.
Our reference point for an examination of the social barriers could be the introduction of Facebook. Once Metcalf’s law kicked in, ordinary people could see the inherent value in sharing their lives online and overcame their reluctance to enter their personal and private details into the Facebook database. Turning to one potential aspect of life that could be with us the time ahead: personal artificial intelligence assistants (we do have Alexa, Cortana & Siri now don’t we?). Our uneasiness with being second guessed ahead of time by artificial intelligence may be rendered moot because of the value and ease these new machines bring to our lives, relationships and careers.
And what of the governing class and the way political life is conducted. Is it because of the Machiavellian dictum “never attempt to win by force that can be won by deception” that political barriers will remain? For with this category of barrier the perspective that “a fully digital economy is equivalent to full transparency” may well be the non-negotiable impediment raised by its stakeholders. An anathema to the political class.
And what of legal barriers? Consider the difficulties presented by cryptocurrencies, the machinations we have with privacy in a digital world, and the conundrums with copyright. And let us not forget the implications of RegTech, the jurisdictional challenges faced by taxation authorities in this digital world, and the quagmire at the interface of human bodies and technology.
Finally, there is who we are as individuals, as members of families, communities, tribes and nations. All revealing a rich and complex global panoply of worldviews and belief systems. We can conjure images of dystopia and pockets of doomsday preppers as symbols of resistance to a fully digital economy. And similarly we watch the countervailing forces of progressives and conservatives. Progressives seeking a better way, conservatives seeking to only incrementally improve the way things are. And then we have the reactionaries who are bent on impeding any forward movement that the forces of improvement show.
Given all this, is it any wonder that we have so far been able to thread the needle of change. Is it any wonder that the quality of so many parts of our daily life for so many lives is better than what it was decades ago?
There is no single “who” or “what” holding us back from a fully digital economy. But what there is this: a multitude of challenges that are to be overcome on our collective arc of accumulation.
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