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Digital Transformation [1]

The term is ubiquitous. Is it really something special or an old hat? The beginning of a short story about the ongoing transformation.

Posted on: 08/11/2019

Throughout the 2010s, the term "digital transformation" began to be used more and more. What exactly this term means varies greatly depending on who you ask. One thing is for certain, however. Every answer carries a certain emotional charge, showing enthusiasm, or fear. But is it really that bad, or really that wonderful? Is "digital" really that big of a deal?

"Digital" sounds very technical at first. In essence, digital technology is merely a carrier, a means of transport. It is comparable to paper in the previous millennium. Paper is the carrier of written information. For the written communication of information, paper was just as essential as digital technology is for digitized information. So is digital technology just a new carrier medium? Far from it! To better understand what's really going on here, it's worth taking a look at the history of human communication.

For centuries, the transmission of the information had only been possible through handwriting and spoken word. In contrast to spoken language, however, written text is able to record the information and thus transport it over space and time. Written text has always included the language, because it is only readable in the context of a language. In other words, it is language that gives text meaning. The development path from primitive communication, to spoken language, to written text was a slow evolution over centuries.

  • It all started with the gestures and facial expressions. Today we call this almost forgotten way of communication "Body Language&quote;. Unfortunately, our civilized society hardly understands this language, but in nature it can still be the difference between life and death. This type of communication has different variants, which can also be understood as languages or at least dialects. It is well known that dogs and cats, for example, communicate with completely different body languages. This is also the reason why dogs and cats often misunderstand each other and therefore don't always get along.

  • The spoken word made possible the development of human language(s). Till this day, this is the most heavily relied on method of human communication. People who speak different languages, but understand only their own, have the same problem with understanding that a dog has with a cat.

  • Handwriting opened up a new dimension in communication. Thoughts could now be recorded and therefore, preserved. As a result, communication was no longer momentary to an audience, but also available for anyone to read in the future. For preservation, however, a carrier medium is required. Stone was used first, followed by parchment, then paper. Written communication, by nature, has the same hurdles as the language itself. Those who do not know the language of the author will find it difficult to read foreign writings.

  • Book printing made written communication much more efficient. This technique enabled documents to be copied much faster than previously possible. Prints also had another major difference in appearance. While ancient and early medieval writings were painstakingly copied by hand, making the original and the copy look very different, copies made by printing were always identical. Print had paved the way for the standardization of the handwriting's individual form.

The invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the 15th century was only possible because he found a way to change the printing plates quickly. His type case consisted of standardized letters that could be used to set any text. The letters were much easier to replace in the print frame. Previous standardization made the copying process much more efficient.

Since then, the process and paper have only been improved. New printing technologies and more powerful machines have increased throughput enormously, but the basic technology has remained unchanged to this day.

A fundamentally new way of exchanging information was only made possible through the advent of electricity. In the mid-19th century, the Morse Telegraph revolutionized communication, laying the groundwork for digitization. Read this chapter by continuing to Part 2.