By Mimi Kalinda
“Technology is neither good nor bad – it’s what you do with it that makes the difference” – Marc Benioff.
We are in the midst of The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) – aptly named a “revolution”, for by its nature, it brings about radical change and forcibly establishes a new way of life. Change is not only good – it’s unavoidable. However, it doesn’t come without challenges.
What is 4IR?
4IR can be described as the current and developing environment in which disruptive technologies and trends (such as ubiquitous data, infinite connectivity, ever-increasing computing power and advanced monitoring technologies) are transforming our lives significantly.
With the COVID-19 pandemic having taken the world by surprise, various aspects of 4IR have been accelerated. Schools have gone online and the way we learn has fundamentally shifted. We have very little need to physically go out – almost everything we require can be delivered to our doorstep. Remote working has now become the norm as opposed to the exception. Even social and business events have now moved to online platforms.
Collectively, 4IR and the global pandemic have resulted in swift and drastic changes in the way we communicate and interact across different aspects of life. The shift to digital platforms (accelerated by the advent of widespread lockdowns) has also catalysed the evolution of how we consume media.
How Does 4IR Relate to Media?
The role of media technology has never been more important. The advertising and media landscape is constantly changing – faster now than ever before. This affects every media aspect – from how we consume media (super-fast, byte-sized chunks, pictures and video over text, second-screening, etc.) to what media we engage with (AI, chatbots, instant messaging, social media), and the visuals and messaging we are exposed to (e.g. AI-generated advertising). We also need to be super cognisant of
how we engage with consumers, taking into account privacy policies and the communication industry’s role and responsibilities in this space.
4IR Challenges for Media
4IR often brings increased barriers and costs for media companies, coupled with decreased barriers to entry for amateur media creators. Key 4IR challenges faced by professional media include:
▪ Traditional media organisations require high capital investment in order to adapt to consumer needs and continually produce high-quality, ethical and impactful content. They also have to invest heavily in the ethical issues that the new technology brings up. For example, with IoT and AI come a plethora of ethical and legal issues like privacy and responsible decision making by those in control of AI technology. The speed of 4IR, coupled with the fact that we are still fairly early in the revolution, also means that organisations are often investing in yet to-be-perfected technologies. This creates a constant need for reinvestment in upgrades for these technologies.
On the other hand, social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, etc. enable savvy amateur creators to cheaply release content and reach massive audiences, regardless of the quality or the ethics of their content. The rise of fake news, predatory content and unscrupulous content creators is also creating a serious and ever-evolving threat to society as a whole, often derailing the public’s trust in the media.
▪ Another issue is the risk of increasing inequality in that the poor and/or those in rural settings may be disenfranchised or left out of the revolution as a whole. This is a particularly big issue in Africa where poverty and inequality remain high. Media organisations, and the media technology that is driving them, have to find a difficult balance between embracing 4IR technology and continuing to serve the large portions of our society who are currently excluded from the 4IR for one reason or another.
▪ 4IR has also led to increased competition for the attention of consumers and stakeholders. The slow and reactive nature of the regulatory and legal environment also creates challenges for formalised media organisations as they have to tread carefully when they are taking measures to increase their competitiveness within the market.
4IR Opportunities and Communication Solutions
While 4IR, like any revolution, brings with it many challenges, it also brings more opportunities:
▪ To take advantage of 4IR, established media must become technologically savvy, creative and strategic. The reason why fake news and predatory media are pervasive is that the distributors of such content have mastered the use of algorithms and systems in order to maximise reach. Established media can better harness tech tools to improve the reach of newsworthy content.
▪ Established media must also embrace social media and its empowering effect on the ordinary citizen. Partnerships with good amateur content creators, when done right, can add real value to all parties and allow established media to increase their reach by penetrating new demographics. Just as citizen journalism and private content creation thrived in the age of camera phones, talented amateur creators can be leveraged to great effect through collaboration.
▪ Media houses must lean into 4IR and its pillars as much as possible. They must intentionally look to make use of AI and IoT to integrate content and drive convenience. 4IR technologies are not cheap, but there are ways to overcome budgetary issues via creative and strategic investment in technology.
▪ 4IR also demands that organisations upskill their workers and invest in the talent at their disposal. This goes beyond teaching or hiring specific technical skills. Industry experts are now advocating for skills development models that seek to teach individuals how to deal with complexity and change. They argue that the rate of change in 4IR will always outpace specific skills training, and, therefore, organisations are better served by teaching employees how to effectively solve complexity and how to deal with the change.
▪ Very important: learn your audience. It is easier than ever to do so in the information age. Specificity is key. Facebook, Google, Instagram, Apple and Amazon have become who they are because of how well they know their audience. In fact, it sometimes seems like they know us better than we know ourselves – there is no doubt that they understand the value of specificity and targeted product delivery to achieve success in the era of 4IR. The media must
also invest in storytelling and messaging. With so much information, it is harder than ever to grab the attention of audiences. We therefore need to maximise the impact of our content.
The media has always had a unique position and power to influence society and to shape history. We must embrace that power in order to influence and shape the narrative of 4IR to ensure that the conversation thrives and that no voice is left out of this somewhat scary yet, decidedly exciting, revolution.