Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Why You Should Know About The Digital Revolution

The computer revolution, the information revolution. You hear talk within the media about some revolution that is supposed to change everything.

Yes, there is a revolution so profound in it's implication, so sweeping in it's scope, and eventually so pervasive in it's effects, that it will change everything, but it is neither of these.

The two big revolutions we have seen so far are the Agricultural revolution which began about 3000 years ago, and the Industrial revolution which began about 300 years ago. I am convinced that we are simply in the heyday of the Industrial revolution, the final strokes of a mighty brush, which because of the Industrial revolution's drive to automate, simply paints faster and faster.

The acceleration of change we are witnessing is the logical outcome of the drive to automate causing history to unfold faster and faster.

Computers are simply machines which automate the processing of information. Because the most important underpinnings of our present world rely so heavily on information, (Economy, Government, Commerce, Business, Education Military, Media etc.), and because computers do that so quickly, all of these systems are speeding up, with change being the only constant. Therefore, these things do not represent something new, so much as the same unfolding process accelerating.

But the true revolution, the one that will change everything, the one with all of the wild cards, is just beginning. It is the digital revolution. At it's very core it IS new. It's about translating atoms into bits of data. Let's talk about that, and why you should know about it.

Shakespeare once spoke of a "tide in the affairs of men" and how valuable it is to recognize it early.

When you consider all of the things that you do which are repetitive, someone, somewhere is working on automating that process.

However, the digital revolution (the translation of real world experiences into bits or data) represents a still deeper shift in the "tide". That is because everything that can be digitized is being digitized. And everything can potentially be digitized. Sounds, images, movement, thought processes, information, knowledge, intelligence... In other words, everything that can be translated to data will eventually be data. Boring you say?

Well consider that the meaning of data has barely begun to dawn on us. Everything we sense is converted to data by our brain. It's called "sensory data". What we now call virtual reality is a vague shadow of what is to come. By then, our world will have completely shifted from the focus on atoms to bits of data.

Once things become digitized, their cost goes into free fall while rapidly accelerating in power and reach. Digital Cell phones loaded with digital cameras communicating across digital networks are leaching the mass from media spawning a new viable grass roots media. Notice how quickly digital devices; computers, phones and iPods spread and evolve. Or how the digitization of entertainment through MP3s or video on DVD have so quickly outstripped the recording and movie industries ability to stop it.

Meanwhile, look around at what physical things become vaporized due to the thrust of digitization: Paper, tape cassettes, photo development processes may quickly spring to mind.

Some cars have no physical link between the accelerator pedal and the engine. When you depress the accelerator, you are actually sending a digital signal to a computer. The pedal might as well be a mouse.

What about farm equipment and the land upon which it tills? Bio-engineering has already produced oranges that grow in vats. An entire "orange grove" sits inside a room, without trees, branches, leaves or dirt. What the digital revolution will do with Real Estate, it can do with practically anything else.

Look at all of the tasks that are repetitive where you work. These are the most fruitful to begin considering in a new light. The sheer amount of opportunities can be blinding at first glance, so start with customer service tasks. Specifically communication needs. Are there repetitive information requests that would better serve these people if they were automated? What about information that WOULD be very valuable, but because of distribution or production costs (printing etc.) it has never been fully implemented?

Now ask yourself how technology could make obsolete some of your equipment, products and or services. If it is conceivable to you, it is achievable. Pay attention to news releases about these areas. The best way I know of doing that right now is by using RSS. Have a robot scan hundreds of your favorite Websites and automatically deliver new information rather than surf for it.

(This is an excellent example of innovative people re-engineering the Web using these principles.)

So, if I have offered you any perspective at all, it is the direction in which to begin casting your flashlight.

For the best description of this emerging digital world, read "Being Digital" by Nicholas Negroponte. Lucid, easy to read and understand, it is at the top of my recommended list.

Warm regards,