Digitization in a Global Context
Digitization is one of the buzz words of our time. Everyone wants to be digital and benefit from new, digital innovations. But at the same time, everyone seems to have their own, individual understanding and thus a different definition of digitization.
If I ask ten people what digitization means, I get ten different answers. This is mainly because there is still no clear definition of the term. In its origins, digitization describes the transformation process from analogue information to digital formats. That may well be true, but does this description provide a full picture and is it adequate for the time being? The well-known economist Peter Drucker once said, “In times of change, the greatest danger is to act with yesterday’s logic.” With this background, I want to dare a new, updated attempt at definition and present why digitization for me primarily stands for one thing: Peace.
Digitization and Peacebuilding
Looking back at the year 2019, it may seem to many as if we are still light years away from a peaceful world and yet have long since arrived in the digital age. So how do digitization and global peace fit together while on the one hand thousands of people die fleeing across the Mediterranean Sea and terrorist attacks shake the world, and on the other hand the first cars are driving autonomously on our roads and we can no longer live without smartphones?
Digitization is Progressing Inexorably
That we are becoming increasingly digital is beyond question. There are countless examples of how digital products simplify our everyday life: Amazon’s Alexa plays us our favourite music, our car warns us when we get too close to other vehicles when parking and e-book readers replace bound books. One country that is particularly influential in digitization is China. When I wanted to open a bank account in the Chinese metropolis Xi’an during a year abroad, it took me less than half an hour after entering the bank premises to open my account and hold the corresponding card in my hand. Despite the speed, I did not use the bank card once. The reason: In China, almost everyone pays wirelessly. According to Statista, China is the country where most people worldwide pay with their smartphone. In Germany, on the other hand, it’s just a few percent of the population, so practically no one.
At the Digital X, Europe’s largest digitization initiative, where I recently had the opportunity to speak about the global effects of digitization, I was shown the next step in contactless payment: Since 2013, the Swedish company Biohax has been implanting microchips under the skin that allow you to pay contactless – with your own hand. Even though many people are sceptical about this and there are still unresolved regulatory difficulties, one thing is clear: Digitization continues to advance and all those who oppose it are visibly losing both connection and credibility.
The Goal of Global Peace Seems far Away
Even though we are effectively fighting fewer wars and the Global Peace Index proves that living together has become continuously more peaceful in the 20th century, many people still doubt that the world is becoming a more peaceful place. While in recent years I have been able to observe the progress of digitization in technology hubs such as China, India, and the United States, I have also become aware that the world is still far from a state that can even remotely be described as “world peace”. Yes, mobile payment is more advanced in China than anywhere else, but the Chinese government systematically degrades minorities like the Uighurs. Yes, India is one of the countries that is increasingly leading the way in digital innovation through companies like Infosys, but at the same time the conflict on the Pakistani border is holding back the development of the whole country. And yes, the US is still leading the way through world-renowned companies like Alphabet and Amazon, but the current president is undermining democracy in the eyes of many and is increasingly threatening global stability.
From this point of view, the question is justifiably raised as to whether digitization really does contribute to peace or even leads to the opposite. After all, right-wing extremists are increasingly radicalizing themselves online, terrorists can connect much easier and cyber-crime has become possible in the first place.
The Decisive Counterexample
Especially through my travels and stays abroad I have, however, realized how important digitization is for other aspects as well, and that it is much more than computerization and a mere technological change process.
I now see digitization much more as a communication tool that opens doors and brings the world closer together. Without the interplay of globalization and digitization, I would never have been able to interact to the same extent, to build a global network and to maintain it over time. I would never have been able to understand how other cultures see innovation and include as many different perspectives in a decision as I do today. Without the symbiosis of the two processes, I would probably still describe myself as a German, perhaps as a European, but certainly not a Global Citizen. And even though I have experienced the conflicts described as such, one can by no means acquire this knowledge only by visiting the countries. Rather, digitization has created the preconditions for this knowledge to be accessible online for everyone, at any given time and place in the world. This, in turn, enables us all to create a more open and peaceful world.
In my words, digitization is therefore more than just a process of technological change. Digitization plays a crucial role in bringing the world closer together, making it a bit smaller, more tangible and ultimately more peaceful. Digitization is a milestone in the matter of communication and a tool which – if used correctly – can contribute to peacebuilding and international understanding.
Even if this does not lead to an entirely new definition, it does show the scope, advantages and importance of a digital, interlinked world. As a digital native, I see digitization as one of the greatest opportunities of our time. It is equally a process of technological and social change. And therefore my plea is: The next time you think about digitization, don’t just think big, but most importantly think together!
DISCLAIMER This article is an opinion piece and makes no claim to the accuracy or completeness of the statements it contains. Rather, an individual point of view is presented, which can therefore be discussed and criticized. Any feedback can be addressed to me through the contact field on the main page.