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Devsena Mishra

Digital Empires – Emerging Trends and Visuals

These days, some strange and unnecessary trends/visuals/debates are flooding over our screens (whether we want to see them or not), and sometimes it seems that the ‘Digital Empires’ are making their presence felt in our life like never before!

Other than Infrastructure and Economic Influence, these Digital Empires and their citizens both have some political acceptance too. Today, protecting the rights of ‘Digital Citizens’ is a top priority of democratic governments across the world, and such jargons are now a part of the routine public discourse and official briefs.

So, from Digital Apps to Digital Economy to Digital Empires, it seems this global transition is going at a remarkable pace and ease! 

But sometimes, we must make a fair assessment/reality check on these Digital Empires’ influence to assess whether that is real or some mere fictional stuff. After all, many sci-fi believers exist among us!

Now the question is: What should be the measuring stick or a metric to evaluate the strength of these Digital Empires? How can we check whether there is growing acceptance of their existence? And most importantly, where do these new ‘Empires’ stand before the old systems of governance that are still functional (or perhaps they seem so)?

Let’s put it in a simple manner: Time is one of the most precious resources of human life, and we tend to measure the value of things in proportion to the ‘Time’ spent. Valuation of Time in our wage, labor, and all other economic exchanges, often helps us to determine the cost and worth of something.

So, Time is money, we often say that, and traditionally, human beings tend to be quite thoughtful in spending their money.

If we make ‘Time’ a measuring stick here, we can check how much time the Digital Citizens contribute/dedicate voluntarily to these Digital Empires. There are estimates that an average internet user spends approx 6 hours 58 minutes, in a day, on social media platforms (which is close to a full day work shift).

Can we expect a normal citizen of any System (say in a democracy) to contribute even an hour from their daily life, only for the sake of sustaining/strengthening the idea of Democracy (happily and voluntarily)? We know we cannot! It takes enormous government efforts to motivate citizens to go to polling stations to exercise their voting (a basic right) once every three, four, or five years, and still, the participation remains lower than expected. That’s the case with every democracy across the world!

But on the contrary, the same citizens are spending, their most precious asset – Time, on these platforms come digital empires, happily and voluntarily, and yet they believe that it’s a free service and the emperors are so kind! These Digital Citizens are even ready to shed their right to privacy, secrecy, dignity, and independent thinking and life, for the sake of participating in the trends of these digital empires and they never demand their human rights here!

For a System to exist, individuals must accept, participate and engage in that. So, the participation and engagement of people matters!

Some are active to spread propaganda and others are there to counter that, some are seeking entertainment/pleasure, others are producing it, few are using it positively (for education/news, etc.), and the rest are abusing it negatively. But in the end, no one can escape from it, and they will be called ‘Digital Citizens’ of these ever-growing Digital Empires.

No social or political organization, across the world, has the capacity for such constant mass mobilization of their members/followers for any single cause, regularly!

So, what does the picture look like from an eye of a stakeholder/believer of old systems? Where do their institutions, structures, and platforms of public participation stand in front of these vastly accepted Digital Empires?

A few days back, in an interview, while recalling the learnings of his father, Israeli PM Netanyahu said: “My father was a great historian and well, he taught me several things. He said that the first condition for a living organism is to identify danger in time, because if you don’t, you could be devoured. You could be destroyed very quickly. And that’s the nature of the human conflict.”

The question we need to ask today is: How should one take these emerging strange and unnecessary trends/visuals/improvisations related to our family, social and religious structures? Is that a perfect trap to drag, attract and engage the remaining few, the detached ones?

A few years back, voices on the attention economy and potential loss of creativity and mental capacity from an overdose of screen time, started surfacing across the world, and a healthy trend started where many people voluntarily stopped using these tools/platforms. But then something interesting happened, and all of a sudden tsunami of questions on the very existence of individual identity, their gender, their parenthood, their family, their social and moral beliefs, started surfacing, and that provoked those who were either detached or were in a mood to do so. They all got encouraged to participate. For what? To defend and counter what they believe in! They started participating in these social media exchanges again, sometimes for some serious discourse and sometimes for the good of humanity. Now, what happened next? They all eventually became participants/digital citizens on these Digital Empires! So, in the end, whose gain is this?

If we summarize the potential loss from this trajectory, where it is going to hit the most, it seems that eventually, it is the idea of ‘Time’ and the idea of ‘Information,’ that will lose their relevance. In all previous conceptual revolutions in human history, the significance of Time and Information remained intact but now that is changing!

When there is plenty of time to spend and a surplus of Information to consume, it is the abundance of time and information itself that has the potential to make them irrelevant too! As a human, we tend to give value to those resources that are scarce, not those that are in abundance, it’s a part of human nature. So, the ‘age of abundance’ (that some people claim AI will bring), will naturally bring a collapse of the idea of time and the idea of Information too!

Now the question comes, if neither time nor information will remain relevant then how the wages or worth of individuals will get determined in such an Economic System? Well, the answer is simple, that will be determined at the will or mercy of Digital Empires!

No matter how much time you spend or how much information you produce, and whether what you produce is of quality or not. If your activity is going to strengthen the idea of Empire, then you will get incentivized/compensated (exceptionally), or else you will not!

To some, that scenario may seem quite doomsday type, but when the creative believers of Sci-Fi fantasy are at the helm of drafting the craft, can we deny such future visuals, with certainty?

Case of Bharat

When it comes to dealing with and defeating the ‘Empire’ mindset, the experience of Bharat is rich. Hence it can be said that the case of Bharat is a bit unique! An interesting thing about Bharat is that we are not insecure about any idea or improvisation. We are programmed to see any idea, big or small, with a calm state of mind, called samabhaav(समभाव), and that approach is a legacy of our civilization, which offers us an inherent conceptual clarity!

Decades back, in the early days of ‘Computerization,’ when the idea was in its incubation stage, our great visionary Shri Dattopant Thengadi ji used to have dialogues with trade unions, industry, and common people together, on the issues of the possible impact of such tech-driven changes in our socio-economic activity, and routine life. He was of the view that “if this Second Industrial Revolution, which computers are bringing, will create: A whole new environment; A whole new civilization; A whole new way of life and A very different tomorrow, then a decision on adopting it cannot be a matter of an agreement between some Employer and his Employees alone! If it is going to affect the whole society then every responsible stakeholder of the society must be made to think about its implications, costs, and benefits. And that is possible only with integrated thinking and mindset.

Before these growing Digital Empires and their AI-driven vision for the future, the response of Bharat is again the same. We will keep playing our part for the good of humanity!

About the Author
Devsena Mishra promotes advanced technologies, startup ecosystems and Indian government’s business and technology related initiatives like Digital India, Make in India and Startup India etc. through her portals, articles, videos, and books.
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