23 September 2006

BC — ‘Before Computers’; AD — ‘After Digital’

HAVE we ever thought about life before the advent of computers? As perceived by a sceptic, BC now shall mean Before Computers while AD means After Digital. Families that gathered around fire in the BCs are now sitting before digital entertainment devices.

Friends and family are just an e-mail or chat-session away in AD. Books are being typed, downloaded and read electronically unlike with scrolls and ink in the BCs.No longer do we pay money for shopping in the ADs; we simply swipe electronic cards. Meeting people is easier than in the BCs; no need to travel; just click the buttons and Voila! Our voice and images reach beyond borders instantly.

Technology has touched social, economical dimensions with the intangibility of the digital products. Not just our wealth or our knowledge, even our identity is commoditised in the electronic era. Money, music, movie, books, shares, photographs are all digitised. E-Books, e-mails, e-readers, e-cash, e-tickets are all part and parcel of normal life in the ADs.

Over one billion people can access the Internet according to a study in 2006 and it is also predicted that the number will continue to rise faster in countries other than the US where the penetration is about 70 per cent. We have been caught unaware by a revolution more subtle than industrial revolution that gave us the modern machines.

It is a revolution that is constantly making a stronger impact through information and communication technologies. Each day a new software or a device or a technology arrives making our lives easier, faster, more functional, more efficient and even more fun. We belong to the GenY (GenerationY) community which has embarked the information highway named so by the former US vice-president Al Gore.

People shop, talk, mail, see, hear, write, vote, consume and even relax with the aid of novel information technologies. This is the 'Information Society', a product of the information era, where the supply of information and their electronic exchange supports both our social and economic lives. It is of common impression that all such technologies are just in their nascent stages.

There is anticipation for more sophistication in the technologies that are in use today. How many of us are we really ready for more? The information society is expanding beyond our homes, offices and national boundaries spanning the globe. Entertainment within the home is competing for our attention with new and new devices everyday.Work at office is seldom complete without searching electronic archives or instant electronic transmission.

Most of us recollect the panic we feel when we forget the PIN number of our bank ATM card. Some of us even recollect rushing to call the bank to stop all payments after finding the ATM card missing. Loosing the passport and being stranded in a foreign land, is a truly a night mare situation. So in total our normal life can come to a grinding halt if we are not identified through information processing systems that require electronic identity documents.We have reached a stage where our activities come to a stand still in the absence of our identity records.

At this point identity shall mean national identity card, health bank account card or even passport like documents. Just revisit how technology has permeated all our life events. To begin with birth and death are recorded electronically.

An identity provided by registering this event forms the fundamental characteristics that is being verified and authenticated all through future. Consider the case of National Identity cards.It is almost impossible to claim your identity without it. You need this identity to avail educational opportunities, drive and own automobiles, operate bank accounts, visit other countries, run your own business or access medical or social benefits. These identity cards are now electronic in the sense that the data about every single individual is recorded electronically and held in a database.

In order to avoid false impersonation, even sensitive data like fingerprints, iris scans, signatures are held in electronic format.Every one shows concern about how the security of these data archives. We are now in a situation where we are vulnerable to our electronic existence. Impersonators and cyber criminals are in the look out for our identities. They indulge in covert activities involving electronic data and transmission.

Through Digital Oman let us trace through cyber crime which is considered to be the new weaponry for war and resulting dominance.

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