by Bhaskar Chakravorti, Ajay Bhalla, and Ravi Shankar Chaturvedi
It is barely 20 years since Sergey Brin and Larry Page registered the domain name google.com, and only 10 years since Steve Jobs walked onto a stage in San Francisco and introduced the iPhone. Yet in this short period, digital technologies have upended our world. We introduced the Digital Evolution Index in HBR in 2015 to trace the emergence of a “digital planet,” how physical interactions — in communications, social and political exchange, commerce, media and entertainment — are being displaced by digitally mediated ones. We identified many hotspots around the world where these changes are happening rapidly and other spots where momentum has slowed. Two years on, depending on where we live, we continue to move at different speeds toward the digital planet.
Today’s Digital Landscape
While much has changed even since 2015, there are roadblocks on the journey that have remained surprisingly resilient. Consider the five most salient features of today’s digital landscape.
Digital technology is widespread and spreading fast. There are more mobile connections than people on the planet, and more people have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet. Cross-border flows of digitally transmitted data have grown manifold, accounting for more than one-third of the increase in global GDP in 2014, even as the free-flow of goods and services and cross-border capital have ebbed in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. While more people can benefit from access to information and communication, the potential for bad actors to create widespread havoc increases; with every year, the incidents of cyberattacks get bigger and have wider impact.