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OP-ED: Digitally dull … and happy to be dull

  • Published at 07:38 pm September 24th, 2021
digitization digital bangladesh

Faster internet alone won’t make us Digital Bangladesh, we must create a workable roadmap

That we have been assessed as 103rd among 110 countries in the digital quality of life index doesn’t worry me. We know we don’t have any quality, and we consider ourselves fortunate that the indexer thought of Bangladesh -- to include us among 110. In fact, we don’t require an index to gain this wisdom about our digital quality.

I’m worried about our complacency regarding our digital ignorance and weaknesses. We tend to believe that the availability of the internet will lead us to the digital world. But we forget that the internet is like a highway where we ourselves must drive the digital cart. There’s so much more to do than just creating access to the internet.

However, that too, the access to the internet, is miserably insufficient. Our experience in using the internet is poor. The people are spending their money to buy internet, but the quality of its speed at the consumers’ end is very poor. We realize it when we travel to another country, where the experience is better.

Why would the people of a country with a digital tagline attached to its name have poor internet experience? What do we mean by the term “Digital Bangladesh”? Merely looking at the phone for entertainment surely doesn’t mean that we have become digitalized, or that we are on the way to doing so.

It’s much deeper than this. To my mind, digitalization is a map-making exercise which would lead us to identify and understand the areas that we want to digitize with the help of digital technologies. The question is: Have we created that map? Health care? Education? Trade and commerce? Traffic systems? What?

I don’t think we have that map with a specific timeline. It’s been about 25 years since we’ve been using the internet in the public domain. However, the distribution channels are still unorganized. The overhead cables along the electricity distribution lines tell the story of how disorganized we are in our minds; what kind of haphazard psyche we live with.

How about digitizing our traffic system? Have we tried it? And failed? We haven’t tried it yet? We don’t even know what to do with our traffic.

If I understand clearly, digital technologies are supposed to help us to be more cost-effective in order to reduce the utilization of many other resources. For example, we should have been able to minimize the use of paper to a great extent. Is that happening? We’re talking about going paperless, but are we following that path? Why are we doing the same thing both digitally and on paper? That seems unwise to me -- a waste of time and resources.

We’re now adamant to launch 5G frequency very soon. But why? For what purpose? Is it just because many other countries have implemented it? Is it just political rhetoric? Where’s our infrastructure to run 5G? How can you drive a train without ensuring a proper network of railroads? It’s like buying an elephant-sized car in a roadless geography.

The return on investment in 3G and 4G has been horrible. Why did we have to implement 4G without ensuring proper utility of 3G? The consumers are still using 3G because they don’t have the devices to use 4G. Millions are quite happy to use 4G. We didn’t find any significant difference between these two Gs.

Therefore, we require a faster technology which is 5G. But there has to be a reason for this. Have we mapped what we would do with 5G? Better experience in watching movies with less buffering time?

Let’s say we want to digitize the equipment that are used in the hospitals with 5G. Our surgeons would be able to do their work more precisely. Yes, of course, we want to see that? But are those equipment compatible with 5G technology?

OK; first launch the technology and then we can get ready with the equipment. Is that what we’re aiming for? Is that realistic in the true sense?

Is this equally true in all walks of life and sectors? Yes, 5G would change us in a way that we’re yet to imagine. But do we need that right now?

To my mind, this is dull thinking.

My humble suggestion is: Let us fix our governance first with the massive unutilized spectrum that we’re sitting on. I strongly believe things will fall into place if we can advance on our governance frontier.

We heard that corruption would reduce when we instill digital technologies in our governance. Has corruption reduced?

There are so many talks about using apps and making everything convenient for the people. There’s too much focus on comfort. Now, we have to realize that digitalization is much more than just seeking physical comfort.

I believe we first need to imagine a “digital life” -- the whole of it. What would a digital life look like? Does anyone know? Has anyone imagined? We may get some clarity if we can imagine. Otherwise our digital vision would suffer. As long as we don’t do that, our digital dullness would remain incessant.       

Ekram Kabir is a story-teller, a yogi, and a communications professional. If you want to reach him, he’s just an email away: [email protected]

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