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The global impacts of digitalization today have stretched beyond the normalcy of any civilization we have known before. This is much to the concern of policy-makers, economists and industry leaders. The acute dependency on digital technology across continents, across nations and cultures has become a defining aspect of any nation’s progress today. Pull the plug, deny access and decimate living! What has technology led us into? Is this the pinnacle of a preferred world that we want to hand on to the generation of the future? The potential holocaust phenomenon of a digital darkness is an outlier to reckon with.

What is a digital darkness? From a layman’s perspective, a digital darkness delineates a dystopian image of inadvertent consequences triggered by the shortcomings from the design and use of technology. In essence, the death of the internet. Murphy's law propounded that "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong". The more sophisticated the technology, the higher the unprecedented risks. Digital dominance may be the utopian image of the future for nations seeking global recognition and power. However, such ambitions do not come without impinging on the fundamental aspects of life. This resonates with the precept that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Perhaps it is always hard to see the limpid impacts of the unknown unknowns while we are in the vortex of a change. The nerve of the present day living seems to revolve around instant access to information and knowledge – from mundane life activities to the more complicated existential issues of humanity - no one can rightly dismiss the superiority of the internet. Over the decades, the internet has weaved itself into the fabric of our society. Everything from sustenance, agriculture, finances and health to the military and utility systems relies on the internet in some way, shape or form.

Data from Statista 2020 reveals a staggering 4.66 billion people as active internet users as of October 2020, encompassing 59 percent of the global population. The pushes of robust technology result in faster and more dynamic communication. Reliance on mobile or hand-held devices is paramount. To date, 91 percent of total internet users worldwide are those on the mobile mode. "It's all about the apps". Not only are mobile applications the key to innovation and customer expansion, they have also become a high revenue business. With over 300,000 mobile applications developed over the last 3 years and with a record of downloaded content of 10.9 billion times, this reflects nothing short of a monumental adoption of internet-dependent technology. Nearly all fundamental human pursuits have been touched, if not revolutionized, by this mobile technology. Imagine a world where operations from the very basic necessity of connecting with a colleague to the more sophisticated setting of algorithms for autonomous vehicles are all within reach and ‘in our hands’, what would be an apt metaphor for this scenario? Perhaps, Laurie London’s famous song which was written in 1958, “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” provides the best trajectory.

By now, the notion of a digital darkness is nerve-racking. Connecting billions of people worldwide, the internet is a core pillar of the modern information society. Northern Europe is top-ranked with a 95 percent internet penetration rate among the population. Other countries with the highest internet penetration rate worldwide are the UAE, Denmark, and South Korea. At the opposite end of the spectrum is North Korea with virtually no online usage penetration among the general population, ranking last worldwide. China, India and the United States rank ahead all other countries in terms of internet users. China has more than 854 million internet users, and India has approximately 560 million online users. Nevertheless, both countries still have large parts of the population that are offline because of the sheer size of their populations.

In the event of a wild card scenario such as COVID19, the quandaries of a world without the internet is unfathomable. The lockdown period has spurred our dependency on technology to an exponential extent. People turned to online modes and apps for basically everything, from updates on health issues, remote learning, online banking to food supplies. High impact meetings and dealings across boardrooms are more than ever before transacted via virtual platforms of Webex, Zoom, Teams and WhatsApp. Digital technology has resurrected social trust by default. Sharing of personal information and data online is no longer a qualm. With massive data shared in cloud, the risks of them being compromised are extensive. Consequently, with great dependence, comes a greater cataclysm in the event of a digital darkness. The image of a digital outage is not as compelling as that of a digital explosion. Ignorance of the mega-impact of a digital darkness can prove devastating.

In this age of Internet of Everything, a digital darkness renders dissimilar contexts to the developing and developed countries. For developing countries, being at the cutting edge of digital advances proffers stability towards nation building. Digital technology on-deck will undoubtedly transform a country’s economy and encourage investors, thus transforming a nation’s capacities. Unfortunately, the inaccessibility to the latest technology and surpassing information structure, deprivation of information technology literacy and heightened socio-economic factors are the operative status quo. Contrarily, for developed countries, the worst case scenario of a digital darkness proffers apocalyptical repercussions in the likes of socio-economic stagnation, political divide and even institutional chaos.

The narrative of the internet as a divine sanction towards a civil society may have different trajectories in different parts of the world. In the land where supremacy lies in the brute force of control and manipulation, the internet takes on a countervailing front. Logging on to the internet is no longer for the virtuous knowledge or mundane leisure but of digital weaponry and circumventing government-imposed content controls. While the predicament in the sub-Saharan African countries, Afghanistan, Yemen and Mongolia suffer from digital darkness primarily due to educational and socio-economic reasons, countries like North Korea, China, Russia, Turkey and Iran sharply limit the adoption of internet for political reasons. The Chairman of the Chinese SOHO corporation, Pan Shiyi, at the Conference on the impact of the Internet on industry, in Beijing on December 12, 2014, had tersely quipped, “I want to make an appeal to the government not to make us climb over the Internet great wall of China. The wall does not comply with the spirit of the free Internet!” The “wall” here was none other than the “Great China Firewall,”; the great gateway data traffic semantic filtering system that inhibits online content available to Chinese Internet users.

Eventually, digital darkness spells out a period of substantial and psychological standstill caused by the hypersonic digital technology, proliferating tribulations of inequalities of access between the developing and the developed countries – the rich and the poor. This parameter of a digital divide inherently impedes the development and dynamism of a nation. And when the benefits of technology beget drawbacks, a construction of a new narrative is cardinal. It is critical to point here that a digital darkness encapsulates the favours and the fragilities of technological advancements.

Digital technology provides limitless knowledge to those who seek and this is where the conflict between the seekers and the sought after brews. Technology can be a powerful tool towards the desired appeasing world or a vicious enemy debilitating a civilization. A growing digital divide within developing nations, the contest for power and supremacy between developed regions, the quests for control and manipulation especially in dictator-ruled countries, and the sheer folly of men are contributive to the possibilities of a digital darkness.

© Fazidah Ithnin 2021

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