‘A plea to think differently in the digital world: reflections on digitization and society’ by Peter Hagedoorn is a collection of essays written over last 10 years about issues facing the world today – large scale migrations, changing nature of nation states, cybercrimes etc.
When I read Peter’s credentials, I was tempted to check his views on these matters, one of the reasons why I chose to review this book. Peter Hagedoorn a physics engineer has mainly worked as a CIO and on digital transformation alternately for the public and private sector. And I must admit I have mixed feelings after reading the book.
The essays don’t particularly say anything that those of us familiar with current affairs already don’t know, but where the essays differ from pieces on the same subjects we come across in media is they provide solutions to the problems instead of just whining. The solutions are based on the ideas the author seems to be passionate about.
He says the world must be a globalized place without any space for the ‘we and they’ ideas that have taken over in the last few years. However, Hagedoorn is not a big fan of people from poorer migrating to West and believes in the age of digitization, it is possible for rich countries to distribute knowhow information to people staying in poorer countries helping them to improve their lives staying wherever they are. The smartphone, which almost everyone has now, has made it possible to disseminate information like never before, he believes.
Technical people’s ideas about human development tend to have a technology bias making them too optimistic about the potential of technology to overcome all problems overlooking the challenges brought in by diversity of human conditions which may make it difficult to apply technological solutions in a uniform manner (or to apply at all). Given Hagedoorn’s background, it is easy to understand that there is bias for digitization.
Rich countries sharing knowhow with poorer countries to help them improve their possibilities may seem very easy to do on the surface but may run into challenges in several undemocratic countries and societies which may be skeptical about seamless flow of information from Western democracies influencing the behavior of their citizens. Also, the assumption that everyone has a smartphone may be a little far-fetched in some countries, in different parts of the developing world, where an internet connection and a smartphone may still be a luxury for certain parts of the population.
It's not as if this disparity in human conditions can't be worked around but telling how to overcome situations outside Western homogeneity would have made the solutions more complete.
One of his essays is about the sinister side of the information fluidity brought by digitization. According to Peter, cybercrime has made perpetrating a crime an easy thing to do. Cyber criminals are hardest to catch because cybercrime gives complete anonymity to the cybercriminal. It also involves very low investment and risks. Cybercrime portals which operate with complete impunity make this form of crime easily accessible. For example, Ransomware as a Service (RaaS), the commonest way to introduce malwares into a computer or network, is freely available on these websites.
Peter blames it on callousness of governments about data security. Thankfully this callousness is slowly ebbing – now there are strong data protection laws like GDPR. Peter’s essay, being slightly dated, doesn’t account for the current developments in the world of data protection. But that’s understandable as he sets the expectation in the prologue by saying the essays have been written over a period of a decade.
The essays reveal the interest of the author in the issues but lack personal touch, reading like academic journals – cold and distant. The same pieces would have acquired human warmth if Peter had thrown in bits and pieces of his personal experience with these issues. I am sure coming from the professional background he does he would have plenty of them. And if he had done that, the same pieces would have been transformed into takes of a physics engineer who has worked on digital transformation for years on how digitization is changing the world.