Everyone talks digitalization. So do I.

I even give presentations about it. Because I get the impression that there is a lot of confusion around. Although the topic is not really news.

For me, even the very term “digitalisation” is not a good choice. Here are the terms I consider relevant: communication, networks and information.

Information exchange means you generate information by thinking and then you exchange the information through saying out loud what you thought. There is an analogy with language. You can put language into written words – then it is “digital”. That is trivial. The relevant factor is how fast and how intense the spreading and exchange of information takes place. And this is where technology and its development start playing a role.
Let us just look at the latest development of humans:

After several attempts, the “humanoids” managed to walk upright about two million years ago. That was the requirement for the “humanoids” turning into “homines sapientes” around 200,000 years ago. Still being hunters and gatherers, the humans had their creative phase and started to leave Africa around 125,000 years ago. 60,000 years ago, homo sapiens really got under way and developed language until 10,000 years ago.

The spoken word is volatile. Whatever someone said could be heard only once. Consequently, they invented stories and handed them on by word of mouth. They included redundancies in order to reduce errors during the transmission process. There were attempts at drawing pictures along with the messages, but that was only a partial success. Consequently, it was only logical that, a few thousand years after the spoken word, the written word came. And this is how, about 7,000 years ago, they invented script.

In old Egypt, they told stories in temples using a symbol language that strongly reminds me of images. They were carved into sand stone and coloured out. Later, lighter materials, such as papyrus and paper, came. Along with technologies such as the printing press and the forcing set. And later, the information technology, like all technologies – was made electronic. Initially, they used copper (cables) and wireless technology.

Coding was also improved, for instance with the use to simple alphabets and digits. “Algorithms” and “technologies” for processing language and all sorts of information into the digital form were developed all the time. It is quite simple to show that all symbols can be represented digitally. This fact was an important requirement for computer developers, because, basically, the easiest way for them to work is using zeroes and ones. But that was a totally normal technological development.

Incidentally, written symbols and thus written language for transporting information was initially used for “business purposes”. Consequently, it seems to me that business is the “mother of all things and inventions”, rather than “father war”. War is just a special kind of “business” – and a very despicable one at that.

Written language makes knowledge available over time and space and creates networks. The rare books of Galileo Galilei travelled Europe and met the ideas of Kepler. Progress and technology was developed in cities. Because that is where the various disciplines met. Later, the cities started building networks and progress gathered momentum. And then the entire world became a network. Initially through letters, books and magazines. Later, newspapers and books were replaced by IT technology, just like oil lamps and the tallow candle were replaced by electricity and the light bulb.

Information networks brought us the so-called “industrial revolution”. And “digitalization” is only the continuation of this development. Both the speed of networks and the amount of knowledge have increased and continue to increase, which means that the process gets faster and faster. It is all part of the Anthrozopän (the era of humans – Anthrozopän). They do not really know when to define its beginning, neither can anybody tell where it will end and what will come after.

Eine Satellitenaufnahme der Erde gibt anhand der sichtbar gemachten Lichtverschmutzung einen Eindruck der Größenordnung menschlichen Einflusses auf die Umwelt

Satellitenaufnahme der Erde mit sichtbar gemachter Lichtverschmutzung.
Satellite image of the earth with light pollution made visible. You can see what a huge influence humans have on our planet (picture taken from Wikipedia).

I would prefer if we characterized the current phase of humanity using terms such as networks and information. Digitalization is a weak metaphor for what is currently developing. But “digitalization” is “in” and terms such as “information era” are “out”.

And everybody wants to be a front-runner in order not to be left behind. In Bavaria, for instance, we have a Zentrum-Digitalisierung.Bayern (ZD.B), other German states already start introducing similar institutions.

And you can read endless numbers of pamphlets on digitalization (mostly with nonsense written in them) and attend many events. As a general rule, neither is any use to you. A short time ago, I attended the TechDays in the Munich Tonhalle. It was truly a festival of speculations and I am sure that, if anything, it increased the prevailing degree of confusion..

In the German Wikipedia version, I can recommend the article on Digitale Transformation (Digitale Transformation). It gives a concise summary of the current state of affairs. There are also some contributions, such as Computerisierung, Informationszeitalter or even Digitale Revolution (Computerisierung, Informationszeitalter, Digitale Revolution), all of which are “nice to have”, but basically you do not need them. There is also an “English” „digital business transformation“ article – I hope they will soon change it to become a feasible “digitalization in public offices and in business” article or something similar.

Let us just consider “digitalization” as the continuation of “industrialization” and as part of the evolution on our planet in the time of Anthrozopän. Incidentally, there is now a Special Exhibition (Sonderausstellung) in the Deutsches Museum with a few things absolutely worth seeing. But you should be careful about getting a guide who will not punish the group by telling them half-truths and voicing personal opinions.

(Translated by EG)

1 Kommentar zu “Reformation, Revolution, Transformation, Future – All is Fine – Provided it is Digital.”

  1. Chris Wood (Thursday July 21st, 2016)

    “Information” is an English word, (with no plural, and derived from French), so perhaps I can quibble about its meaning. Thinking is not required. Information can be generated by a machine or apparatus, and can then be exchanged and used, without thought. Consider collecting weather information, and the information collected by google.
    “Digitalisation” should be the conversion of analogue data to digital form. This has the advantage that the data can be copied and transmitted, (with probability as high as desired), with zero loss of detail. The word has, (at least in Germany), also come to be used for extension of the networks appropriate for digital information.

    Despite my comments on earlier postings, Roland continues to exaggerate the importance of upright stance in human evolution. Perhaps he is influenced by his military service time, but more likely by a book from the last century. Just 70 years ago, nobody believed that Homo sapiens came from Africa. It was thought to be descended from Homo erectus, probably in Asia. Ardipithecus, 7 million years ago, was fully bipedal, according to Wikipedia. (OK, Roland, Homo erectus probably ran faster). Our last ancestor common to the apes may well have been more bipedal than chimps. Gibbons and Orangutans are more bipedal than chimps. Upright stance was unimportant compared with brain development, and even was a problem for brain development. Narrow hips and large head make birth difficult. Thus human babies at birth have relatively small brains compared to adults. The delaying of brain development was important in human evolution.

    Roland also speeds up the rate of other aspects of human development. Thus speech came about 50,000 years ago.
    Yes, hieroglyphics look like little pictures, but were largely alphabetic. Gradually they were simplified. Our letter “a” started as a simplified bull’s head, (Greek alpha). Do not confuse hieroglyphics with the non-alphabetic Chinese pictograms.

    The hunter/gatherer time was not the most creative phase of human development. A few ideas, such as religion, use of fire, spears and simple stone tools, took thousands of centuries. The most creative phase is now, because there are more of us, and particularly more who can read and write. Now is also the most destructive phase, particularly regarding biodiversity!

    Konrad Zuse was a good inventor, whose significance tends to be greatly exaggerated by Germans, for example compared with Babbage. Gottfried Leibniz in 1697 introduced the binary number system. Francis Bacon in 1605 had already discussed binary representation of letters as a step in encryption.

    I wish to mention that modern man, outside Africa, is a hybrid of African Homo sapiens with Neanderthal humans. In each person, the Neanderthals contributed only a few percent of the genes, but overall about 30% of the Neanderthal genome is still “in use”! It is remarkable that the two races of humans developed brains of similar size in parallel.

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