History tells us about how civilisations have been shaped over the millennia with the turn of events and discoveries. From the Stone Age to the Industrial Age there have been significant changes to the culture of the society with the new learnings and interminglings of the people brought about by science, the wars won and lost and the socio-psychological impacts of globalisation. Human migrations, travels, trade and conquests have acted as catalysts of cultural change from time immemorial. There have been distinct changes to the identity, the relationships, the customs and the ethos of the civilisation from time to time and careful studies by anthropologists and historians have helped us appreciate the evolution of culture in different societies.
Unlike in the past when the impact of changes took time to materialise and in the process several sub cultures got formed, Digital Age is heralding a new culture with fascinating and sweeping changes to our everyday life at short intervals that are being experienced simultaneously in small or big measures throughout the world. Understanding the trends and the patterns of these changes is important for appreciating the societal evolution as culture is a core factor that impacts the customer mindset.
Cultural changes are brought about by two key developments—discovery and innovations from within the society and by borrowing and adapting to ideas from the outside. In the digital world, values, beliefs and practices are being shaped on both these fronts leading to social change. The digital tools such as the internet and the social media are examples of inventions that have radically impacted the society at large and driving the change in culture. In the past human agents played a key role in bringing about the change, in the digital age, while human interventions continue to contribute immensely to the dynamics of change, technologies and tools themselves act as the medium of change resulting in the stupendous pace and the rate of adoption of change.
Digital technologies have also led to spread of new ideas and practices making a dent on some cultures and also possibly enabling the evolution of common cultural code unconsciously. Closer collaboration between groups of people and inspiration and borrowing of ideas have started impacting the lifestyles of the society and the DNA of the businesses. We have witnessed the powerful transformation in the political landscape in the recent times in countries such as Egypt where social media interactions played an impactful role in the political upheaval and have been experiencing the emergence of user friendly mobile apps that have brought about changes in consumer preferences through concepts such as Uber simultaneously in both the economically advanced and the developing countries around the world. Digital memory and privacy are just two of the key issues that are being debated on their merits and demerits aiding the progress of civilisation and the emergence of new culture.
If in the 80s and the 90s we attributed the global cultural changes to the medium of cinema and television, in the recent decades digital technology has expanded the scope, the depth and the numbers of people impacted creating in its wake the new social order. Referring to the emerging phenomenon of digital culture, the Israeli professor Ilya Levin mentions about three different cultural spheres in the digital era: spiritual—social media as a new way of forming social consciousness, social—personal identify as a new way of forming personality and technological—data intensive science as a new methodical paradigm of science. What is distinctive about cultural change in the digital era is the speed of adoption of change, the simultaneous adoption of changes and the likely impact on the heritage and traditions of the sub cultures. As a result of such changes, certain traditions would die and many others would get transformed for the better or the worse.
In the Indian context, trade and invasions by foreign armies over several centuries have resulted in dynamic changes to our culture as evidenced in the introduction to tea and coffee drinking habit in place of conjee and other traditional drinks or in in the area of fashion and dressing up— giving up the ethnic clothing that were intrinsic to different tribes and regions and preferring to adopt western clothing, welcoming various religions and fusing them with indigenous practices and incorporating musical influences from around the world such as western and sufi tunes and melodies in the classical and folk music traditions of the country.
The digital age is bringing forth a heady mix of flavours creating awareness and opportunities for further innovation and at the same time better tools for recording of heritage for those keen on preservation of history. Folklores, traditions designs, music, micro local heritage and handicrafts which got neglected due to industrialisation and lack of patronage now have an opportunity to be patronised and popularised as beneficiaries of digital culture with commitment and systematic planning around these themes by motivating and training the local population about the methods of recording and dissemination. These are also the times to humanise history and culture by encouraging people to establish linkage with their past and become conscious about the true connected nature of the world that we live in. The society would also need to cope with the contradictions of several layers of traditions, modernity and the neo digital age all thriving simultaneously in different sub culture groups until the new age culture takes a definite form and digital enlightenment is attained.
The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company