Understand, Approach and Act – three keys to unlock the future
In view of the requirements of fast changing digital world, which Thomas Friedman calls “the age of acceleration”, driven by exponential growth of microprocessors resulting in transformation of microchip technology and the increasing bandwidth, it is imperative to understand the changing nature of the communication paradigm.
This becomes more relevant as we are confined to our homes due to an invisible sub-microscopic organism, forcing people to think digitally and act in a new ecosystem of communication, that they call the cyberworld. The cyberworld brings in new challenges and at the same time opens new opportunities.
While the world economy, during pandemic, suffered a huge setback, with our own GDP nosediving in negative, it has also created many new billionaires who could make sense of the opportunity amid despair. One such billionaire is Eric Yuan the owner of ZOOM Video Communication.
So the very survival, in this fast changing cyberworld, is in adopting to the change. But for that we should have a proper understanding of the change itself.
American investor and a world-known business tycoon, Warren Buffet’s one line sums up the story. He says, `you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out’. We hide behind the tide as long as we can, but once the tide goes out, we are left to ourselves. Warren buffet’s line has a message for all, who want to liberate themselves from the traditional education and employment models. The good old days and ways of education and employment (in media or elsewhere also) offer us a protective cover. But as we enter the age of technology, we need to wake up and wake up fast, because the protective cover is thinning - and in the wake of the pandemic – completely disappearing. Old structures were already spiralling out, but an invisible virus has first corrupted and then re-wired or reconnected the whole system of life after 2020.
The tide which might have lasted a little longer is fast going out. It’s the time for us - each one of us - to prove that we were not swimming naked or if we were, we have to find a cover of our own. If we are swimming in the ocean of media, we don’t have to hide behind the mass appeal of mass media. Because it does not exist. This is the time, therefore, to create a space of our own, so that when the tide goes out we are not caught buck naked. That is a tough ask and to do that i suggest a three step model, which we can follow sequentially, so that we reach where we find ourselves safe and secure, in a world that is throwing out the old methods of communication and creating the new ones at a pace never seen and never heard of.
The three keys, of the model, to unlock the future, that I propose are:
Understand, Approach and Act. (UAA)
Knowledge, they say, is power and so it is. But in today’s age what matters more than knowledge is clarity of knowledge. We call it understanding. In a world driven by a deluge of information, how do we fix our target and insulate ourselves against the noise around us is the first step towards seeking our goal. What is happening around us? How does it impact us? How do we deal with it to stay relevant? Where do we land if we allow ourselves to be drown in the wave of technology?
These questions have been approached and answered by the thinkers of the modern age and these are the question which we should use as key to unlock the future. Before moving ahead or going with the tide, they stress on one point. They stress on a clear understanding of the subject.
`Dream big’ is the slogan we commonly hear and technology can realise that dream for us, but behind the dream lies a hard reality. The reality that if we don’t understand the story, we can’t explain it to others. If we don’t read the change, we can’t be the change.
The hard reality is that we are dealing with digital natives -the millennials in millions- who think and dream digitally, who seek and offer solutions digitally and who consume more data then food. This new crop of human beings have different traits and needs. Therefore, to deal with them we need to navigate with a clear understanding of present media scenario, to remain relevant to them and to stay relevant ourselves in future.
After having understood the very changing paradigm of mass communication, we will now be better equipped to approach the area that we want to explore for ourselves.
While approaching, we encounter a fear, (a fear) which is part real part imaginary. Real, as the new is fast replacing the old and imaginary as speculations have started much earlier. The fear that automation will eventually lead to unemployment may sound exaggerated to a few as it’s been there for a century now. But this time things are different and that is the point we must not miss. Just because it has not happened till now never means it can’t happen ever.
The Israeli historian and a writer of global repute, Yuval Noah Harari says `machine learning will be a real game changer’. So if humans have exhausted themselves of all their physical capabilities, now is the time to stretch our cognitive abilities to limits. That is the only way forward. Machine are going to be our rivals.
Today we are witnessing robots as news readers, tomorrow they will be media educators and take up all other roles that we the human beings perform in the media industry. If we have to prove we are superior, we can’t do it on the physical turf, now the turf is less physical and more cognitive.
The world of cognitive learning is full of possibilities. All we need to do is to identify these possibilities pragmatically and then train our senses to make use of them.
The world experiences a challenge of ‘state control of media’, that should not deter anyone entering the media education or the media industry, as the technology is offering new opportunities. States may still control media institutions but now individuals too have a power to create their own two-inch space, to reach a far wider and bigger audience. Sensors and gatekeepers of mass media have been rendered invalid. That has stretched the borders of freedom and created a new paradigm of communication.
This changing paradigm, has raised new issues of social and ethical responsibilities, but at the same time it has empowered us to approach the subject of mass media from a new creative angle.
Having said that, mass media will still retain its importance for now, because of its greater impact and magnification power. The impact of MEMES circulated through social media, is magnified when they catch attention of mainstream media. The approach, therefore, has to be rooted in ground realities that are shaped by cultural and social aspirations but navigated more by digital technology -making boundaries irrelevant. As Ben Silberman, the CEO and Co-founder of the Pinterest, makes us believe that “the promise of technology is only to extend our reach”.
That is where the fun begins. This will take a will to do. We have no idea how the job market will look-like in the decades to come. But this we know for sure that carts and horse-driven buggies have no takers now. What we can see – rather foresee – is a hazy image of a new world that is constantly propelling us to act and act now.
The way things are happening it’s likely that billions of people will become (what Harare says) `economically redundant’. So we can’t wait till that happens and then brace up to take the challenge. The tide is ebbing away to expose our nakedness. `we have to do the things’, as American author and columnist Thomas Friedman writes, `before things are done to us’. Our understanding has to be based on the premise, that the very notion of mass communication is falling apart. Human ‘collectivity’ is fast merging into human individuality. It’s happening everywhere but challenges in media are much bigger than ever. Every year around 50,000 students graduate from different media schools in the country. Are they appropriately trained and skilled to enter the job market ?
Another dimension is, that the unemployed of the modern age may appear to be jobless, but their way of doing a job will be radically different from the conventional jobs. Why, because, artificial intelligence is the new destination of human history and with it new individualised or atomised versions of communication will come into existence. No matter, how much machines have penetrated, but we are still controlling the machines. What happens when machines begin to take control. The challenge is huge, and Friedman suggests us to convert AI to IA –that is we have to learn to convert artificial intelligence into intelligent assistance. That will require a great deal of skill and anyone proficient in doing that will be the employed of the new age. That is the new turf where we need action.
Today AI is just a knock at the door. The rumblings are there and with every day it is getting louder. Once the blast happens we can be thrown out of the race. So what futurists suggest is to learn the new skills to stay relevant. We can’t keep things from happening.
Though we will be losing jobs on a big scale, but at the same time we will be also generating jobs at a much bigger scale. If automation cancels old jobs in just one straight stroke, the reverse stroke creates new jobs. Take broadcasting. It is collapsing into what they call `narrow-casting’. TV as a medium is dying. It is only a matter of time it will be declared dead. It is no longer the family medium. You don’t have a mass audience, now you cater to smaller groups and even smaller cliques and reducing it further – you cater to individuals.
So after understanding the medium, we approach the medium with a greater clarity and then act with all our experience and skill at our back. You don’t reach your audience like a demagogue would reach people on a mass scale, your audience now may be smaller in size but that smallness has an inherent capacity to swell up into something unimaginably big. `a small step of man’ has still the power to be known as a `giant leap for mankind’. We saw MEMES by ordinary citizens creating ripples at mass level and overtaking prime time on what we still believe is mass media.
Streaming is the new slogan of the new world. Uploading your content will find its users provided we know what our audience needs and how it is packaged.
Tv may be dying but video content is in greater demand. When pandemic forced shops and malls to close Amazon and Flipkart did better business. As TV loses its mass appeal demand for quality video content for digital and social media will grow and the ad money will look for new players. These new players may include YouTube and OTT platforms, like Netflix, Prime-videos and Hot-star etc. besides major emerging convergent media spaces. If these are the new destination of advertisers, so it must be ours also.
The pandemic has demonstrated that educational and instructional videos are in great demand. Education that remained in the peripheries of media industry now offers us a new turf. Now educational institutions will also need support of media industry and media professional. The technology has also made it possible for the professionals to perform at a global level. Industry in the west, particularly media and IT industry, is employing all kinds of professional human resource from south Asian countries.
So opportunities in new digital age are galore but it all depends on our actions. Our action must be backed by a sound understanding and a serious approach. Earlier you had to find your audience, now your audience will find you out. Therefore, just “understand, approach and act”.
Brace up for a new world – the world of tomorrow -the age of artificial intelligence and social media. The age of OTT platforms and convergence of media.