Monday, May 05, 2014

The Digital Moron

Not too long ago one of the consulting companies’ classified people by their digital proficiency and created three groups; digital dinosaurs, digital migrants, and digital natives. This was picked up by many people who used this classification to target their solutions or services to their respective benefit. The resultant divide did not matter to the bourgeois or the elite, they anyway continued to demonstrate behaviors that they did; the world continued to evolve, and gave way to a new species, which is gaining ground.

Characteristics of the first three categories were quite easy to comprehend and evident with their names. The Dinosaurs are the people born before the advent of technology (today’s 60+ generation) who use basic technology to stay connected. Migrants (born before 1990 or thereabouts) embraced the new technology wave sometimes a bit uncomfortable, but more or less adept. The Natives are born into the new world and do not know of a life without social media, mobility, ubiquitous connectivity and instant gratification.

As is with all kinds of evolution, there are genetic mutations, exceptions and the differently abled who do not partake in the normal. They have all the means, the environment, the facilities, the stimulus, the desire; they show a lot of promise and demonstrate a stray spark of brilliance. These individuals are mostly found in the cusp of the natives or wannabe migrants (migrants who believe they are better natives than the natives themselves). It does not take too much of an effort to spot them, they are visibly obvious.

In a digital conference with average participant age less than 24, we tried spotting the pseudo natives; one of the sparsely haired speakers in mid-40s was desperately trying to impress the audience with his knowledge and investments into digital startups. A mobile cloud, take it anywhere you go; make 2G work at 3G speeds; family only social media, were some of the references to his invested concepts which he believed were ahead of the evolution curve. No one had heard of his ventures but the crowd humored him to get his wallet share.

A corporate 20-something CDO (Chief Digital Officer) reveled in the fact that he was ahead of his peers having already achieved the pinnacle position in an industry which was always in the forefront of digital technology. With an MBA from a prestigious institute, he strutted around to the envy of others who wanted to get there. He was on stage being interviewed on his vision and predictions of where the digital world was headed. Not that he wanted to entertain the audience; his responses had most people snickering.

His stated digital strategy for the company revolved around leveraging an existing portal which had lost traction with customers. Is mobility part of your strategy ? Off course, we are deploying apps ! How do you plan to differentiate ? We are looking at global trends ! Do more of the same, do it a little differently; will it change the world or bring around a revolution ? As the Q&A progressed, the audience became restless wanting to be rid of the listless conversation. One anonymous listener shouted across the room, “Get off the stage, you …” !

Titles aside the general enthusiasm around digital everything ranged from wearable technology to esoteric business cases; the general feeling was that if you are a migrant, there’s a generation gap, if you are older, why are you here ? You don’t understand our language; you don’t belong to this new wave. Don’t slow us down; we know where we are going. While some oldies tried to moderate the irrational exuberance reminiscent of the dotcom era, the young believers retaliated with cries of frustration with the dinosaurs.

I think that giving some latitude to sprouting innovation connect to real life use cases is the need of the hour. It would serve the well-wishers to espouse the cause while staying out of the way of the emerging digital tsunami. The velocity and variety of change challenges legacy thinking; to understand and appreciate the thinking process of the new generation entrepreneurs requires unlearning and new mindset failing which the older generation and some from the current too run the risk of being alienated or being labeled Digital Morons. 

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