Phygital has gone Viral

Ninety years ago, in his prescient discourse, “Fifty Years Hence,” Winston Churchill reflected on the history of the past and speculated on the mystery of the future:

We look back a hundred years and see that great changes have taken place. We look back fifty years and see that the speed is constantly quickening. This present century has witnessed an enormous revolution in material things, in scientific appliances, in political institutions, in manners and customs. … There is no doubt that this evolution will continue at an increasing rate. We know enough to be sure that the scientific achievements of the next fifty years will be far greater, more rapid and more surprising, than those we have already experienced. … Wireless telephones and television, following naturally upon their present path of development, would enable their owner to connect up with any room similarly installed, and hear and take part in the conversation as well as if he put his head in through the window. The congregation of men in cities would become superfluous. It would rarely be necessary to call in person on any but the most intimate friends, but if so, excessively rapid means of communication would be at hand. There would be no more object in living in the same city with one’s neighbour than there is today in living with him in the same house. The cities and the countryside would become indistinguishable.

Further to my blog posts last week and last quarter, with the confluence of bricks and clicks, phygital is here to stay! From Amazon and Best Buy through Home Depot and Loblaws to Walmart and Wayfair, more and more retail businesses have embraced eCommerce and have established online portals for customers to enter, browse their goods and order them, for either pick-up or delivery. Moreover, many businesses have embraced the WFH paradigm. Many schools have closed and classes have been moved “online” for study from home. Even hands-on/tactile “labs” have gone virtual which ranges from chalk-and-talk demonstration and simulation to automation and gamification, leveraging AI, AR and VR. Furthermore, the pandemic tsunami has been a catalyst that accelerated the delivery of health care services to telemedicine and the broader telehealth (e.g., telesurgery). The ripples have cascaded to church ministries which have also adapted and have been providing services onsite/online. Hybrid models of remote work and virtual gatherings persist.

In retrospect, we can reflect on the revolution from physical to virtual presence, from analog to digital technology, from large to small scale, from tethered to mobile connectivity, from onsite to offsite/online, which have transpired in our lifetime. For example, television has been a viable medium to broadcast content (news, entertainment, information) to a distributed audience for almost a century. For decades, Christian ministries have been broadcasting their programs by transmitting signals to a box in many homes, be it a radio or a TV, and now to a smart device that we wear wherever we go. Clearly, “online worship service” is not a recent development. People, e.g., shut-ins, have been worshiping together with other people for quite some time.

For those of us who have been living in the phygital world pre-pandemic, we are somewhat comfortable with working with clients and remote members of globally distributed organizations in the secular business sector, with learning cohorts of students and faculty in the academic diaspora, and/or with co-labourers and constituents in the sacred church ministry. For those who need to find out how to effectively leverage the phygital state, refer to this McKinsey article, “Everyone is within learning distance: Building skills remotely.” Although the article pertains to the workplace, the principles can be applied to other contexts. Also check out this recent post by Dr. Larry Perkins, “Re-opening Offices Will not be a Return to Normal,” to prepare for entry to the next normal? Here is a recent article in Future of Good by Katie Gibson (CIO Strategy Council), “Canada’s Social Finance History offers a Path Forward for Non-Profit Digital Transformation.” Another recent resource is provided by Marina Glogovac (CanadaHelps), “Demystifying Digital Transformation.” Here’s one more article from McKinsey, “Unlocking success in digital transformations.”

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