The Newsroom

28 February 2019

Minding the Gap: Bridging the Digital Divide

I still remember the early days, when computers first made their appearance. Most of us were brimming with optimism (and to some extent, fear), convinced that this would revolutionize the world. And it did. It would completely transform almost every industry and the day-to-day running of each and every business, given that essentially, everyone could have access to information, virtually eliminating the middle man.

Soon enough, we started to realize that we were entering unchartered territory, and the adoption of new technologies carried with it an onslaught of unforeseen challenges. Unwillingly, we had opened Pandora’s Box and chartered the path to the ‘Digital Divide’. A widening gap was being created between those who could access this technology and those who couldn’t, furthering the divide between income groups, households, mature and emerging industries, schooling systems, and the list goes on. Governments across the world tackled this issue in different ways. Depending on the impact of this tech revolution on their socio-economic landscape, administrations levied taxes or issued subsidies, in an effort to help alleviate the pressure.

Today, the ‘Digital Divide’ still remains. It is simply a beast of a different kind, a generational one. And it is becoming increasingly apparent as we progress into the future. To make matters worse, the speed at which technology is evolving is exponential, making it almost impossible to stay ahead, forget keeping abreast with its progress.

If we take a look at the world today, younger generations who grow up with technology are able to better assimilate it into their lives. Older generations however, are forced to learn it, and in most cases the learning process fails to take place organically because the learning curve is simply too steep for them to climb. Unfortunately, they often get left behind.

As with most industries today, the financial landscape has been completely transformed by technology - what we so pleasantly term as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “FinTech” is no longer a mere buzzword. Governments are making huge investments in creating digitally advanced economies and establishing the ecosystems for cashless societies to thrive. These innovations however, can be a double-edged sword if they are not inclusive. From my personal experience, there is still a significant alignment gap between those who invent, those who regulate, those who implement and those who become the end users (at most times by lack of having choice).

History tends to repeat itself. We cannot escape the technological evolution of the 21st century and what it has in store for us. We have been bombarded with inventions previously only seen in movies, and we are about to come to face with ones that we have not even dreamt of. Yet we keep having conversations about the digital gap. This begs the question, who is responsible for bridging the digital divide? The tech giants? The industry itself? Local governments?

How do we allow nature to run its course without leaving generations behind? How do we become a more efficient, inclusive business without alienating some of our customers?

Personally, I believe everyone has a part to play and collaboration is key. Call me an idealist but we need to tackle issues proactively, to come together as businesses, governments, regulators, investors and educators. We need to hold discussions and debates for the advancement of the community. Open, transparent and consistent communication with a strong representation from the public and private sector, especially the end user, will enable a holistic picture of the opportunities and challenges at hand. With everyone bringing to the table their own perspectives, we can consolidate that expertise to drive change.

I believe that innovation and technology are disruptors to be embraced, and in all honesty, cannot be avoided. By coming together, we place humans at the heart of that technology and we evolve society in a sustainable manner that remains empathic and inclusive to all generations.