Hans said that ‘the trouble with digital is that everyone talks about it as if it is an industry yet it is not.’ We were at the North East Combined Authority Digital Leads meeting and were grappling with trying to turn our thoughts and concepts into something more tangible. ‘It is not an industry’ he added, ‘but rather something that underpins all that we do.’ I was reminded of the time I was at a conference in London when one of the presenters said that in the future there wouldn’t be a tech industry – just industry.
We often talk about the number of people who work in tech in the North East. Sometimes we say it is thirty two thousand and sometimes it is as high as sixty thousand. If digital underpins everything we do, then aren’t all jobs tech jobs? Perhaps we are getting too hung up on a number.
Digital is a movement, a current, a flow.
The problem though is that it is intangible. You can’t hold it in your hands. It is something that is magic. Its dealers are alchemists, magicians and sorcerers.
Yet when I think about the tangible I realise that there is no such thing. Everything we believe to be real is merely a construct of our mind. Data is input through our eyes, ears and other senses only to be formatted in our heads.
The sight of frolicking lambs in the lush spring grass, the taste of a cold lager on a warm sunny day and the cloying smell of lilies in a funeral parlour, none of these are real. They are all fabrications of our brains yet they seem real enough.
Digital is just an extension of such a reality. It is formatted and constructed within electronic machines only to be received by our senses and reformatted and reconstructed and if this true of what we can see, the buildings, the streets and the people, then it must also be true of the way we feel, our perceptions, our joy and our pain.
I recall trying to explain broadband to a Member of Parliament. Her name shall remain a mystery. She clasped her hands to her head and said ‘but how does it get down the wire?’
In truth digital is no less tangible than the tangible and no less real than the real, it is just a different construction. Those of us within the industry need to find a better way to get this message across if we are to stop thinking about digital as something different from reality.