The digital literacy missions of any country have hit the common man, big time…! Various modes of operations which govern day-to-day routines of the masses have changed drastically as compared to their routine transactions in 1990s or even up until 2005. Online transactions, shopping, bill payments, airline/railway reservations, and online movie bookings have become rampant in the recent decade. Banking systems are closely linked with our smart phones and desktop computers, thereby making physical visits to banks scarce. Was all of this necessary? Was it the only way, in terms of technology advancement, to catch up with the rest of the world? Did it happen too fast, or did the common man not see it coming? Cashless transactions and plastic currency has hit the common man dramatically. It has left almost a generation clueless, unsure and worried. 

I recall my childhood days (I was forced to run such frenzied errands by my parents!) when I have spent long time in queues of banks or post offices to either withdraw money or to “post” a letter to a friend or a relative. I also recall extremely long queues outside the electricity board offices and telephone bhavans for bill payments, and at gas agencies, to book a gas cylinder. Many days have I spent in frustration when tickets to my favourite movies would sell out and the booking window would close abruptly in my face! And scores would recall waiting on busy roads, trying to hire a taxi or a rikshaw (many of us still do!). 

These times appear to be imaginary now; most of us did not see them go. This technological upheaval started with the concept of smart phones and unique identity mechanisms. The capabilities of smart phones invaded our lives to such an extent that they became a part of our identity and security, and a compulsory device for any transaction. This is exactly the way in which digital literacy became almost mandatory to each human being.

Digital literacy is the set of competencies required for full participation in a knowledge society. It includes knowledge, skills, and behaviours involving the effective use of digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs for purposes of communication, expression, collaboration and advocacy. The digital world is highly connected. Our bank account number is connected to our national identity, which, in turn, is connected to our telephone number and eventually to any transaction which is to be done. The transaction could be numerous, ranging from a simple bill payment and booking a movie ticket all the way to buying and selling land or booking a house! From flight bookings to taxi reservations, everything can be done just by using our fingertips. Overseas university applications which needed to be posted and which would easily take 15-20 days, now take only a few hours for submission, validation and confirmation. Digital networks connect the entire world in a complex fashion, thanks to Google, Amazon, Uber and such digital giants. The security of digital transactions is a crucial issue which is handled in multiple ways of which the simplest is the password. 

Many have missed the transition from a simple telephone sitting on the table of a living room to mobile phones in our pockets. The transition from a dumb phone to a smart phone has been an overlook. The arrival of graphical user-interfaces and the integration of data from various platforms such as banks, insurance, electricity offices, medical hospitals, legal offices, government record repositories and shopping companies have been closely woven into a huge digital network, which has brought the entire human community much closer. Many have missed the digestion of new techniques, needed for understanding the concept. This has given rise to worried and less-confident senior citizens. 

It is not that the country was not ready. As technology was set to change the entire lifestyle of Indian society, specific steps were taken to prepare it for the overhaul, which included various literacy programs, involvement of NASSCOM and NGOs in such missions, and each utility agency offering training to their customers. Yet somehow, the speed was quite high and quite a few of us were lost in this so-called “mesh” of the digital era. The avalanche of data and the complexity of codes and passwords intimidated many people from the earlier generations and made them alien to new technologies. 

While digital illiteracy will not allow the common man to survive recent times, it is very important to note that this phase is also in transition. The coming of big data, cryptocurrency and data science will influence our lives in bigger ways. Since the world has come so close due to this digital era, there will be no time-gap between the global technology disruption and its impact on Indian population. I am sure that the coming generation will be ready to surf on the new waves of change!

Sangeeta Kale

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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