Interactions between the physical and digital worlds

Working for an Information Technology company presents me with a view of life that the digital economy is a must and an integral part of today’s society yet, where that may be true in some parts of the world and within certain demographics, it’s not a statement that everyone would recognise.

But technology is increasing its impact our world every day and lots of very inventive people are finding ways that the digital world can support the physical world, even in very poor and under-developed regions.

The trend for me in this blog post is not the consumerisation of IT as an IT professional may see it, but at what point is something compelling for a consumer, who has very little in the physical world compelled to join the digital world because it makes a significant difference to their daily life?

An excellent example is the Reuters Mobile Light service provided to Indian farmers since 2007 to provide commodity prices, crop and weather data via SMS. Often a community shares a handset but individuals have their own SIM. The service has grown as one subscriber often shares the information with their community to decide where is the best place to send their produce to get the best price and now even use mobile phones to control irrigation.

In more developed parts of the world what we want can be very different, but still critical to our day to day needs with the ability to respond to a need being very fast indeed, such as using a cell phone to measure exposure to radiation in response to specific events such as last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Mobile technology is not just useful to respond to disasters, for example going for a health check at a labyrinth of a hospital and wondering how long one is going to have to wait, lead to the creation of a patient guidance system that should take some of the stress out of the visit – and there are many other examples of mobile applications allowing us to take care of ourselves and improve our physical well-being.

This tells us that the digital world can be a significant force for good in the physical world, the needs of the developing world are very different from the developed world and, using ITU numbers, it seems that a third of the developed world is still not connected (two thirds in the developing world).

So, we can all “do our bit” by taking the 2G mobile handsets that we last used about five years ago and are collecting dust in a drawer, digging them out and sending them to our favourite charities, who may use them to help people in other parts of the world (for example, the Indian farmers) and allow greater participation in the digital society.

2 thoughts on “Interactions between the physical and digital worlds

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