The Promise and Peril of the Digital Economy

Much is being said and written about the emerging digital economy with all its promise of techno-utopia and the perils of technology taking control of our lives. Indeed, while some experts have cautioned against surmising that technology would solve all the problems of humankind and lead us into a future of abundance, the mainstream view seems to be that technology can indeed liberate humanity.

While the case for pessimism might be overblown, there is also the fear that relying too much on the Internet and the digital technologies might lead us to a situation where we become slaves to technology rather than technology serving us. Thus, there needs to be a considered debate on how technology can benefit us as well as fail us.

First, let us consider the promise of the digital economy. The techno-utopians (or the cheerleaders pioneering new technologies and propelling inventions of new tools and apps) point to the business at the speed of thought paradigm where we can all harness technology to operate 24/7 and ensure that real value is created by all stakeholders and in the process, create wealth and prosperity for humankind.

Indeed, one cannot deny that millions of people in Asia and especially in India and China have prospered due to the converging trends of technology and globalization and parallelly have also helped the West to reap the rewards of outsourcing and focusing on higher value-adding activities.

Second, the argument that technology is inherently democratizing can be seen from the way in which anyone with an internet connection or a Smartphone can login to the worlwide web irrespective of race, class, gender, and nationality and participate in what essentially is a “flat world” should give us a reason for embracing the digital economy.

The fact that more than a Billion people are on Facebook and nearly twice that number have Smartphones means that digital technologies have the potential to eliminate or if not reduce the gross inequalities and inequities in the modern world.

Having said that, it must also be said that too much reliance on technology can lead us to a digital dystopia as can be seen from the way in which Smartphone addiction and obsessive gaming via video and virtual reality apps are making an entire generation of youth slaves to technology and creating societal problems as well as personal problems. Indeed, the main concern of many parents in these times are about how to restrict their children’s access to digital tools.

Further, given the anonymity offered by the digital technologies, the potential for abuse and misuse is growing. As can be seen from cyber stalking and online bullying as well as the so-called dark web where everything from drugs to guns is traded, many point to the potential for a new kind of crime and breakdown.

Thus, to summarize, digital technologies are value-neutral, and they can be used for both good and bad. It is ultimately up to us to use them for promoting societal welfare instead of going down dark alleys.

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