Digital Vs. Physical: Does One World Overpower The Other?

If you were born in the ‘80s or before, you will know what an intricate relationship a cassette and a pencil/pen share. If you were born in the ‘90s you understand the functioning of discs and if you were born in the 2000s, you probably have no clue what I’m talking about! While the battle between the physical and digital world are mostly the stuff Hollywood blockbusters are made of, the conflicts that these worlds create is the reality lived by ordinary people day in and day out.

To explain this better, let us take the example of the books and education sector.

Traditionally speaking, reading a novel involves holding the an actual book in hand while studying involves going to actual classes. Cut to the new – age digital world and you have e-books that can be read on e-readers like Kindle or tablets like iPad. On these paper-thin (pun intended) devices, you can store thousands of books and read any at any given point in time. The act of reading is reduced (or enhanced) from physically purchasing a book and holding it, to reading a book on a device and being able to increase/decrease the font as per your convenience.

Education is now available at the click of your mouse, literally. Universities are offering online courses where in students across cities (and perhaps countries) can participate and learn from the comfort of their homes in a virtual classroom set-up. Similarly, educational apps are changing the way students learn. While earlier there was a reliance was on textbooks and fat encyclopaedias, today’s students are turning to apps and mobile internet to learn. Case in point is the Kloudpad and Funpad tablets sold in India that are entirely education oriented and are specifically targeted at students. The online education market in India is set to double to $40 billion in the next five years, indicating quite clearly that this could well be the future of education.

It is not just the traditional universities that are going online, but a string of online ‘universities’ and educational sites are gaining prominence too. Educational sites like the Khan Academy and Coursera are knowledge havens as they provide free education to anyone of any age who has the time and inclination to learn (provided he has a working internet connection, of course).

Now that the picture has been painted, it is time to critique it: Is physical media (world) slowly but completely replaced by digital media (world)?

Let’s face a fact here. Everyone and everything is going digital. Right from tax-filing, to booking travel tickets, to planning holidays, to shopping (be it for your clothes or food for your dog), to purchasing music and seeing movies – everything is and can be done online.  In fact, there are online doctor/medicine forums that can help you diagnose the disease you are suffering from on basis of your symptoms, therefore rendering the visit to a doctor rather unnecessary! Right?

Wrong.

Digital media is here to assist us in the real world, not overpower it.

Going back to our example, educational apps can at best assist the student in his studies. The animation of otherwise boring subjects is sure to excite the child, but on its own it cannot impart a holistic education to him. A complete education can be provided by seamless interaction and discussion, which is only possible in an actual classroom filled with his peers in the presence of a professor. I am in no way taking away from the importance or necessity of these newer models. What I am saying is that they cannot replace the traditional ones, rather they shouldn’t.

Moving on, if we are to take on the dizzying growth of e-commerce we will know how online shopping is changing the way companies calculate their sales and revenue models. Not just start-ups, but large brands – right from TATA to Reliance – are entering (or considering to enter) the e-commerce market. The success and growth of online shops like Flipkart is stuff of legends now. Just as is the growth and demand for physical ones like High Street Phoenix and Inorbit. While digital media can provide you exactly what you need, it cannot provide you with one fundamental – experience.

So, while it is good to consume digital media and revel in the ease and comfort it offers, it is wise to not get carried away by it. After all, Instagram can make food appealing but it cannot satiate your hunger.

Image Courtesy | OLPC and GridKnowledge 

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