The present world is the digital world. The advent of computers, the internet, mobile telephony and related digital devices has dramatically transformed our systems of working. It is also gradually transforming our living paradigms. It seems that these devices are indispensable in our life because all our systems have become overly dependent on information technology.
In the above backdrop, it makes good sense to reflect on the past three decades and critically examine what net benefits have accrued to the world from widespread adoption of IT in all walks of life. The results of this exercise would, no doubt, provide useful inputs for chartering the way ahead.
It is worth recalling that computers were invented as labour-saving devices. They were meant to replace humans for performing stereotyped, repetitive work involving mathematical calculations. This was the first application of electronic computers. Later they were employed for typing, modifying, storing and retrieving all sorts of information — numerical and verbal. Volumes and volumes of texts could be stored in the digital memory systems of computers. The invention of the internet brought further, more dramatic changes in our working systems. The marriage of computers and the internet led to the development of mobile telephone sets. The mobile set today is a virtual office, photographer, music and cinema album, radio set, television set, catalogue, file, textbook, library, archive, telephone, conference room, the marketplace, cash purse —all rolled into one.
The development of programmes and speciality software for a host of applications affected the visible reduction of computational time and effort in all areas of working.
If the saving of manual labour and computational efficiency improvement was the prime purpose of developing digital devices and the related programming software, this purpose has been remarkably achieved. But what have been the tangible benefits of this? Let us cast a dispassionate look by posing some straightforward questions related to the effects of digital devices.
Have digital devices made a living more comfortable and convenient?
Did they increase productivity and income significantly?
Did they contribute to improvement in human health, nutrition and longevity?
Have they increased global trade and cultural exchange?
Have they reduced cultural barriers among humans?
Have they increased permissiveness in global society?
Have they strengthened the bonds of fraternity and camaraderie?
Have they enhanced global peace and security?
Have they made humans more informed? Or more knowledgeable? Or more learned?
Have they enhanced the happiness quotient of global humans?
Have they made humans more logical and less superstitious?
Have they enabled better governance?
Have they promoted scientific developments without damaging the environment?
Getting true answers to the above questions could form the objective of an interesting set of study and research projects. But, undeniably, it is not difficult to see and can be reasonably stated that —
The present age is the age of information blitzkrieg, marked by excessive flow of information, often incoherent, incomplete and incongruent.
The excessive flow of information has not enhanced the knowledge and understanding of subjects but made people confused and muddled on things.
Originality, creativity, innovativeness seem to have declined, and their space has been occupied by information bytes coming from mechanical dependence on digital devices.
The real world is slowly and inexorably giving way to the virtual world of Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter etc.
Relationships have grown transient, superficial and selfish.
Economic and other crimes have not dwindled but increased in a way. Cybercriminals and account hackers are the new creeds of criminals.
Humans have become palpably more materialistic and less spiritualistic, less religious.
The disparity of wealth among the global population has widened further.
The arms race has not slowed down; hegemonic tendencies on the part of nations are more visible than before, and global peace appears to be a more distant dream.
The digital revolution is bringing forth Artificial Intelligence-based devices, including robots, to replace humans in factories and farm fields.
The internet-based mobile telephony works through low-frequency microwave radiation which has filled the lower layer of troposphere. As per the panchbhut theory of ancient Indian scholars, this constitutes the pollution of ether (akash). It is suspected to have Its adverse effects on humans, animals and plants which have not been even looked at, far from being exhaustively researched. There is a strong suspicion that the grave deleterious effects of microwave radiation pollution of the ethereal space may only be waiting to erupt. The AI (artificial intelligence) revolution is fraught with the dangers of job loss and economic deprivation on a gigantic scale.
Truly, the whole concept of digitisation and automation is the offshoot of capitalism. This system has bred inequality and insecurity across the world, leading to violent struggles by the have-nots and deprived. History has proved time and again that capitalism is anti-peace and anti-development because it creates a huge, unnatural and unsustainable economic disparity in the context of the global ecosphere and the larger global population.
Our modern scientists, economists and sociologists along with politicians and policy planners need to pause and take a hard look at the lurking severe dangers of the digital information systems that can have a devastating effect on peace, health and economic security of the global population in the times to come.