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Being at the crossroads of the digital age, Malaysia has to embrace the digital economy, but at the same time, accept its problems. - NSTP file pic, for illustration purposes only.

LETTERS: The smartphone is the most common handheld device in the hands of people.

In Malaysia, this is not an exception. Go on the LRT and you will see Malaysians looking attentively at it. The smartphone has become the most indispensable tech of the 21st century and has become an icon of the digital age.

From young children to teenagers, working adults and senior citizens, smartphone ownership has accelerated with the boom of e-commerce, social media and the digitalisation of the music industry.

And what is a smartphone without content?

Fuelling this overdrive is the apps industry, which has produced tens of thousands of apps, each fighting for a share of downloads with each smartphone purchase. Tailgating on the popularity of YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, the use of smartphone keeps increasing.

Malaysians became mass digital consumers from 2007, when the first smartphone came to our shores, and coupled with the emergence of instant messaging services, such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Line, our dependence on the device has increased.

Telecommunication firms facilitate this growth by providing affordable mobile data services and Internet connectivity.

With an estimated 18.4 million smartphone users and an Internet penetration rate of 86 per cent, the smartphone is also the most popular device used for Internet surfing at 97 per cent. Malaysians spent RM6.8 billion on smartphones purchases in 2017.

The digital culture that stems from the increasing reliance on the smartphone is in line with global trends that foresee the smartphone as the gateway to an unknown digital landscape.

The smartphone is thus in-separable from the digital economy.

Many industries depend on the growth of mobile commerce as the most dynamic contributor to the digital economy.

The tidal wave of digital marketing has seen the rise of key opinion leaders, who influence consumers in making buying decisions.

This will see a shift in the use of traditional advertising as the marketing of products are more mobile and streamed directly to consumers.

Information is now borderless, quicker and easier. However, this does not come without other issues and in the socio-economic and political perspective, the issue of fake news is prevalent as individuals face difficulty in differentiating between real and fake or biased news.

In Malaysia, this is more pronounced as more political battles are fought on social media.

Therefore, fake news will not decrease as long as people share information on social media.

For senior citizens and the Bottom 40 group, the dawn of Internet of Things and the 5G era has not been kind.

The growing gap of knowledge in using digital devices has not been bridged and this has displaced senior citizens, who are left out of the digital landscape.

This digital gap can exacerbate the communication gap between digital natives and baby boomers. The income gap between urban and rural areas, and the disparity in education standards, will add to this problem.

While it is innovative and unique in terms of the economic potential it brings, the digital culture that it brings is also disruptive to certain societal segments and businesses.

Being at the crossroads of the digital age, Malaysia has to embrace the digital economy, but at the same time, accept its problems.

In its quest to be a developed nation in the digital age, a balance needs to be achieved between the economic merits of the new era and the challenges it presents to the people who are displaced, marginalised, or ill-equipped to ride on the digital economy wave.


Petaling Jaya, Selangor

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times.

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