Living in a digital world

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak - The Philippine Star

As we move deeper and deeper into a new world shaped by COVID-19, one thing that we all can no longer escape is the fact that digital solutions are here to stay. It’s part of everything that we do and in all the processes of the way we live. Those who are older and may have initially balked at digitalization now have no choice but to embrace an integral part of the new normal.

This isn’t to say that digitalization hasn’t already been happening. Many businesses and industries have already begun adopting digital solutions in the way they work and serve customers. Whether it’s take-out order apps or online shopping, we are all seeing the convenience that digital can provide.

However, the pandemic kicked all of this into overdrive. With the subsequent quarantines and people being forced to stay indoors, businesses had to explore options to allow consumers to shop from home, buy essentials from home, work from home, and basically live from home. This only became possible because of all the advanced technology available. If we had been put into quarantine a decade ago, things would have been very different.

Fortunately, we had options this time around. With the rise of e-commerce and the boom of online shopping sites like Lazada and Shopee, people had options even without leaving their homes. And retail businesses had options too. Many brands that were taking their time joining the online marketplace had no choice but to accelerate digitalization if they wanted to survive.

The same is true for almost every industry. Finding ways to digitalize became key in this new normal. Payment options, delivery, and more all found ways to get online and make it easier for people to take care of errands and work. Schools had to do this too. With kids not being allowed to go anywhere, learning had to go online, and kids had to quickly learn complex online processes and systems to be able to go to school every day.

And that is how we lived. We have lived in a world that has rapidly turned to digital for the past two years. So many things have changed. We’re beginning to ask ourselves if this was a pandemic inspired blip or a complete cultural shift that will color our world from now on. I think it’s more of the latter. With all of these easy and convenient options now available to people, a large part of them will opt to remain using them long after quarantine ends.

However, having said all of that, going completely digital is still not the best way forward. I know there has been an ongoing debate about how artificial intelligence will impact jobs in the future, and I genuinely believe that while it will have an impact, it won’t be as bad as many people fear. I think what will happen is that AI solutions will take over the more mundane routine tasks, freeing up people to handle more complex tasks and processes that require more thought and empathy.

After all, the human touch is still an essential part of any business. This will determine how businesses interact with consumers and differentiate the customer experience. This can’t be done by machines and companies that want that Wow factor, and that added empathy will only get that from hiring and training the best people. After all, it’s only people who can truly understand what people want.

Plus, only people can accurately represent and provide empathy. I think we have all experienced fighting with automated solutions on a call. We have all been frustrated that the machine can’t understand the tone of our voices or our concerns. Right now, people are still better positioned to provide a compassionate and empathetic response.

Plus, digital solutions still aren’t 100 percent safe. The news of a major banking hack has been circulating on social media these past several days. At first, it seemed like generic news of online hacking and people were advised to change passwords and not click on unknown links.

But as the days passed and more and more people began sharing stories of losing money without giving away an OTPs or clicking on suspicious emails or SMS links, it became apparent that the leak was on the bank’s side and not on the side of the customers. This became a big issue because people who had accounts with the company felt their money was unsafe. Several disabled online banking for several days until it was sorted out.

While the bank has assured clients that they are already looking into the breach and that they will be reimbursing all of the lost funds, the fact remains that these types of breaches can happen with any online digital service. And that’s scary. Online security is something that will impact all of us. And it’s not just money, but also our online identities as well. We all need to be able to rely on providers to better protect us.

So as we move forward, we need to do so cautiously and carefully, fully aware that while digital solutions can provide comfort and ease, they are also something that should be used with caution. Remembering online safety etiquette is the same as remembering safety protocols.

Digitalization is a big step forward for many industries. I have no doubt that companies will continue to explore this more in the months and years ahead. It’s exciting to think about what else we can do online, but at the same time, we need to keep a human anchor as well. After all, that’s how we can enjoy the best of both worlds.


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