What is the Digital Emergency?
In ever more urban and digitised societies, the risk of digital exclusion is more urgent than ever. This has been made evident during the pandemic, as quarantine measures shed a stark light on current structural inequalities. Those who were digitally excluded suffered the most – showing us that we have played a part in the rushed and uneven digital transformation of the past decades, causing the digital emergency we experience today.
In Barcelona, there is a political will to be the capital of technological humanism, putting technology at the service of its people. However, there is a long road ahead.
The digital emergency requires action to ensure fair, inclusive and equitable digital transformation, with coordinated strategies that help to build the resilience we need in this new, post-Covid era before it is too late. At the European level, this process is associated with the desire to ensure that this decade, from now to 2030, is Europe’s Digital Decade. Similarly, the NextGenerationEU European funds that address the economic and health crises related to Covid-19 are based on sustainable growth focused on the green and digital economy.
Six areas of the Digital Emergency
Digital emergency reminds us of the importance of tackling already existing and new forms of digital divides and exclusion, highly visible in large metropolitan regions, both in developed and developing countries. These forms refer to six areas: traditional digital divides related to access and connection, the digitalisation of the public and private sectors, cybersecurity and data protection, disinformation and fake news, new forms of employment, and climate justice.
To achieve a fair, sustainable and equitable future for the new digital society, we need to address these six areas from multiple angles and levels. How that is going to be achieved and which policies, funding, and collaboration will be required remains to be defined.
Digital Emergency at MWC Barcelona 2022
28th of february – 16h
Ministerial Programme: Digital Emergency in a world of accelerated digitalisation
The GSMA’s prestigious Ministerial Programme brings together the most influential telecommunications leaders from across the world. This unique forum expands knowledge, stimulates debate around current issues and provides an opportunity to engage with mobile industry experts on policy and regulatory topics. On this occasion, Digital Future Society will organize a high-level meeting around the Digital Emergency in a world of accelerated digitalisation. The Digital emergency in a world of accelerated digitalisation session will look at the asymmetries derived from this acceleration and on how to tackle new forms of digital divides and exclusion, highly visible in large metropolitan regions.
An exclusive by invitation only dialogue session with approximate 12 participants.
1st of march – 12h
Digital Future Society organizes a debate to reflect on the evolution of the popularization of false information in the digital age, with the European Commission and the main organizations that work to detect and stop disinformation: Newtral, Efe Verifica and Verificat. During the session, the two pilot projects of the Tech Against Disinformation call will be announced.
2nd of march – 15h
Humanism in the digital age: Digital rights in virtual environments, organized by Digital Future Society with the support of the Spanish Secretary of State for Digitalization and Artificial Intelligence, that will take place on wednesday March 2nd 2022 from 15:00h to 17:00h (CET) at the MWC, Hall 7, Partner Theater 2, in the city of Barcelona.
This event aims to identify and review the challenges our societies face from a technological humanistic perspective through a set of different debates on trending topics on the impact of technology for a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable society.
More about Digital Future Society at the MWC Barcelona 2022
The six ways to approach the digital emergency
We talk about digital divides in the plural, to illustrate the complexity behind digital inclusion. It is no longer about access or infrastructure but about: access to electricity, devices, quality of access, computer skills and traditional literacy; a command of ICTs and the internet; and favourable conditions including affordability, legally valid identification, financial inclusion, and trust and security.
The challenge of digital exclusion in Spain is not focused on access to digital infrastructure and the internet, they are faced with a more complex challenge, which has been made clear by the pandemic and its consequences.
In terms of skills, 43% of Spanish citizens and 37% of Catalans do not have the basic computer skills required today. The Covid-19 pandemic has made it clear that digital divides are direct factors of social exclusion. A clear example is that 26.8% of Barcelona’s school-age population could not continue their studies online during the period in which schools were closed.
The public sector
Digitalisation of the public sector is not an easy task. It requires an organisational and structural change that, due to its scale and the diversity of citizens that it serves, cannot easily adapt to advances in the private sector’s applications and the expectations of some citizens who regularly use these applications.
Although the private sector does not have the mandate to serve all the population, the digitisation of its processes, such as in the banking sector, has generated tensions and social backlash, as those lacking the digital skills are excluded from fundamental services generating a negative social impact.
SME’s are the backbone of our economies, and yet they lag in digitisation. In Spain, an overwhelming number of companies have fewer than 10 employees (93.8%) and only 28% have an internet connection and website.
The rush to digitalisation, accelerated by the pandemic, exposed the public and private sector to hostile agents, as during the pandemic there has been a global increase in cyberattacks. In Spain, for example, in 2020 there were almost 7,000 highly dangerous cyber incidents, which is more than double the number detected in 2019 (3,172).
Digital divides are apparent here, SMEs and citizens have become more susceptible to attacks. Security is often seen as the last measure on the list of business needs, and attackers take advantage of the lack of security and weak privacy policies.
According to the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, an infodemic has developed in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. The infodemic is a breeding ground for disinformation. Disinformation promotes distrust in democratic institutions and contributes to a general disinterest in the news.
According to 2021 Reuter’s Digital News Report, global concerns about false and misleading information have edged slightly higher, this year, ranging from 82% in Brazil to just 37% in Germany. Social media channels such as Facebook and WhatsApp are seen as the main propagators of misinformation.
The overload of information has also increased public disinterest in the news. In Spain, interest dropped from 84% in 2016 to 67% in 2021, and this affects younger people more (53%). The increased disinterest is a great challenge for traditional media, which is based on the “attention economy”.
New Jobs (new forms of employment)
Digital transformation has spurred new forms of employment – atypical work – which sometimes contributes to and increases job insecurity. If not regulated, these new types of jobs leave those most vulnerable without protection.
Current jobs will also change. In Catalonia, 35% of jobs have a high probability of automation and a further 35% have an average probability. The same trend was found by McKinsey in Europe, which explained that 40% of the European job market would have to gain new skills to be able to adopt the changes caused by digitalisation.
An intersectional approach to reskilling and assessing the impact that automation and platform work will have on the current workforce is necessary.
In the following years, we will see an increase in demand for data centres, cloud services and connectivity. Although ICTs have become increasingly efficient, global emissions have continued to increase. Emerging technologies play a complex role in the climate crisis and there is no guarantee that the future will be greener the more we connect.
To achieve a green digital transformation, actions are required for “measuring and minimising the climate impact of emerging tech from energy consumption, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and e-waste generation”.