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Is it time for the ‘digital nation’ to fight back?

Clash of the physical nation versus the digital nation

Harish Bijoor, a brand strategy specialist and founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc makes the comparison between the concept of the physical nation versus the digital nation and looks at the future of the ongoing battle of the digital ecosystem.

In the beginning, there was the physical. And then came the digital.

The physical was alive, and the digital was but digits. Bits and bytes that went on to build a world for themselves. The physical world of yore was therefore excited to meet the digital. Digital was considered a solution. A solution for the many laborious tasks man was made to do repetitively. Digital brought with its speed, precision, and automation of tasks. This simultaneously released man from the chores he hated the most. Repetitive tasks became the domain of the machine, and the more exciting creative tasks became the task of man. For a while.

The evolution of the digital ecosystem

Today, the digital world is a nation on its own. As I call it, the ‘digital nation’ is a large and motley collection of people who use digital products and services. These are a mass of people from across the world. Many are early adopters of the digital space and all that it offers. There are digital products and services in this space that embrace social media, mobile technologies, the cloud, analytics, and more. Many are cutting-edge solution deliveries made possible by the digital ecosystem, to make for a happy and more relaxed life.

Digital nation: a nation larger than any and one that is multiplying fast

This digital nation is a large one. It is larger than anyone nation and comprises a mix of eclectic people who will swear by the digital world and all that it offers. The most educated and the most intelligent in every nation are the early adopters of what the digital nation has to offer. An entire ecosystem is behind this space. Products and services in this space grow exponentially and not necessarily geometrically as physical spaces show a tendency to grow.

If one were to put a volume size to the digital nation, let us pick just two from the realm of social and digital media - Facebook and WhatsApp. Facebook is a digital nation with as many as 2.6 billion active users. WhatsApp on the other hand has 2bn active users. Compare this to the size of our largest nations in terms of populations that belong to it. China is the largest of them all, with 1.44bn, and India follows with 1.39bn people. No nation is as large as the largest of the digital nations.

Add another facet to this number dimension. The population of physical nations will grow at a snail’s pace, whereas the populations that embrace these digital nations grow at a digital-rabbit pace. Growth is exponential out here. Even viral.

The right time to flex the muscles?

Push has therefore come to shove. The digital nation is flexing its muscles. Facebook flexed its muscles in Australia, as the government proposed laws to ensure that media companies were paid for by the digital giants, Facebook and Google. Facebook even went to the extent of a news blackout on its apps not so long ago.

And now, in India, WhatsApp sues the Government of India. WhatsApp, the ‘digital nation’, is currently in court with a plea that addresses the issue of privacy of the Indian and the fundamental right to freedom of expression of the Indian at large. Isn’t this quaint? Did we see this coming at all? And isn’t this the way it is going to be in the future? The digital nation versus the physical nation. Two goliaths battling one another on the count of privacy, the right to express oneself, free speech and more.

Holding the candle for the common user's cause

The outcome of this plea of the digital nation is going to be an interesting one to watch. The key issue at hand is the sovereignty of the digital nation and its ethos, versus the sovereignty of the laws of the land in which these digital nations survive, thrive and earn their money.

Interestingly, in the case at hand with WhatsApp and its appeal, the digital nation is talking the language of the consumer and end-user, and indeed the citizen of the physical nation at large. In many ways, WhatsApp is holding the candle of privacy on behalf of the common user of the platform. The digital nation therefore seamlessly crosses boundaries of being a trans-national corporation and that of being a candleholder to the cause of the common-user in India. Agile and interesting.

Future of this busy battlefield

The very filing of this plea has certainly upset the government of India. The initial government comment spoke of an “act of defiance and a bid to stall the new IT law”! The IT Minister has since mellowed that down. The outcome of it all is going to lead possibly towards a movement that China is an expert at. China has its digital toys that appeal to the craving of the masses. There is a Sina Weibo for Twitter, a WeChat for WhatsApp, and Renren for Facebook and an Alibaba for Amazon.

Going by these battles between the digital nation and the physical nation all over, the world ahead is therefore not going to be flat. It’s not going to be one app for all. The world is going to be pitted with each region having its own set of digital toys to play with, do business with and make money from.

What happens between India and WhatsApp, the physical and digital nations in question, will pave the way for a greater clamour for local apps versus the global. In the meanwhile, politics and politicians will play themselves out hoarse. A Koo is waiting in the wings and under the wings of a Twitter. Localized versions of every WhatsApp, Facebook, TikTok, Tinder, Bumble, Grindr and more, are all around. They are brands just off the radar, sub-optimal in their reach as of now. Just about learning the ropes in the case of many and waiting for that one nudge to try to fly.

It will be interesting to see how all this pans out. For now, it’s digital Goliath versus physical Goliath. The game is on!

The author is a brand strategy specialist and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

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