In a society, material culture makes up artifacts such as its tools, technology, clothing, and means of transportation. And, for the last four centuries, the rise of business has continuously improved the production of such artifacts, thereby influencing almost every aspect of daily life.
The 18th century ushered in increased steam engine use and modernized manufacturing processes. And now, we are in the midst of another industrial revolution. Global consulting firm Deloitte calls this Industry 4.0, which is characterized by “the integration of smart, connected, and autonomous digital and physical technologies like IoT (Internet of Things) and robotics”. The 21st century is unfolding new ways that are unique to the times to transform “businesses, economies, jobs, and even society”.
Since our space is limited, we want to focus our discussion on digital as a driver of industrial and, to an extent, cultural transformation. It is too early and too complex to discuss its impact using black and white terms. So, let’s look at how it has changed the way things are done around here, whether it’s commerce or entrepreneurship.
Digital has paved the way for e-commerce to thrive internationally
A customer from Southeast Asia shops on Amazon and receives her package in a month. Meanwhile, someone from the United States orders through a dropshipping store and waits for a couple of weeks for the delivery of his items.
Physical goods are being moved not just from one city to another, one country to another, or one region to another. They are being shipped across the globe, reaching another continent throughout a sales lifecycle that starts with a few clicks.
What’s the worldwide pulse when it comes to e-commerce? According to Shopify, China leads as the largest e-commerce market at $672 billion. It is followed by the United States at $340 billion, the United Kingdom at $99 billion, Japan at $79 billion, and Germany at $73 billion.
Digital economies are on the rise
Huawei, a Chinese multinational digital device maker, reminds us that all countries are transforming into a digital economy. The metrics by which the progress and development of a digital economy are determined include:
- Broadband network
- Cloud computing
- Big data and analytics
The global digital economy is worth trillions, Huawei adds. Those who have been ahead of the curve must be enjoying their well-earned status these days. In 2016, data found the US, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK as leading frontrunners. Spain, Portugal, and the United Arab Emirates topped the adopters pack. Among the starters, the Philippines, Egypt, and Venezuela scored highest.
By looking at where they stand in the path toward transformation, countries can glean insight from and make investment decisions based on what the data says.
Digital platforms enable the gig economy
Solo entrepreneurs, freelancers, and startup founders. Many of these individuals have discovered and recognized the potential to make money online. Digital marketers can assist small businesses on the other side of the world through platforms like UpWork, Remote, and PeoplePerHour. Personal consultants, such as physical fitness trainers and leadership coaches, can reach more people by building their respective sites.
This borderless means of providing services has helped many a jobseeker buoy themselves through changing economic currents. And for what it’s worth, the gig economy inspires trust among those who have struck solid partnerships through digital. This is why we also have the term 'trust economy'. In a sense, the marriage of digital and physical has led to the rise of improved attitudes, beliefs, and values — which represent society’s nonmaterial culture.
Digital gives back the power to the consumers
"It is a buyer’s market," one of our directors said the other day. There are plenty of goods to share and this keeps the prices down. But to extend the meaning of the buyer’s market, we can say that consumers now have the power to demand what businesses should sell them. They are more aware of what they want and more vocal about what they don’t.
This newfound sense of empowerment is partially thanks to the rise of social media. Through digital platforms, consumers now have a channel through which they can be heard, not only by corporations but also by fellow consumers.
And this is what remains good about digital. From large organizations and institutions, the power has shifted to individuals and communities. It is about time that our culture, and society in general, gets a grip on what benefits the majority rather than the privileged few.