Maximising the potential and minimising the risks of digitisation
Carina Autengruber, president of the European Youth Forum and speaker at the Digitising Europe Summit, says digitsation needs to be moulded by society through a coherent strategy that addresses its social, economic and political impacts to maximise the potential and minimise the risks.
Digitisation is revolutionising our economy, society and even our political system. As it expands, its development is challenging systems that have existed for decades. To truly take advantage of the benefits as well as address the challenges, we must take a holistic approach to digital development that incorporates the social, economic and political aspects. With interlinked and interdependent systems, digitisation can only flourish for the benefit of people if the conversation, legislation and regulation are focused on an approach that factors in the whole of society. Digitisation is not something that happens to us: It is we who shape digital development and the subsequent regulation of technology. We must ensure that this is achieved in a proactive and positive way that reflects the society we want to live in.
Young people are perhaps most at risk in this revolution. Seemingly attractive opportunities such as “choosing your own working hours” by driving for Uber or Deliveroo or “working from anywhere in the world” in the form of freelancing or short-term contracts, often merely mask the reality: insecure and precarious work that provides no social safety net. This reality cannot last, and nor should it in a fair society that is dependent on intergenerational solidarity.
From a socio-economic perspective, the most basic measure should be to safeguard workers’ rights and well-being. To that end, a work-life balance is crucial. With our ageing population, an increasing number of young people are becoming care-givers to older relatives, while many also seek to fulfil parental responsibilities. It is crucial to ensure flexibility in working hours and allow people to work in ways that suit both their work and home lives. Linked to a genuine work-life balance is the question of the “right to disconnect” as was legally introduced in France. When can we say, “that’s enough for one day,” as many generations have before us? Young people today are clear: There is more to life than work.
When we talk about digitisation, we hear a lot of discussion about skills investment. However, while most of the discourse focuses on developing skills for employment in digital industries, skills development to complement employment is equally important. Skills like creativity, critical thinking, interpersonal intelligence and problem-solving give humans a comparative advantage over technology. To boost these skills, education in fields emphasising social inclusion and active citizenship is required.
This form of active citizenship can serve as a buffer in our political systems against the vulnerabilities that arise as a result of digitisation. Discussions of citizenship and democracy must include conversations about young people’s critical thinking skills, their capacity to question the reliability of information and their ability to shape informed opinions. Education needs to help raise an informed and politically aware generation that is capable of critical thought and active citizenship. These human skills are equally important as skills that ensure employability.
In short, digitisation is not just a phenomenon that enhances skills and jeopardises workers’ rights. It is an overarching development whose progress can be moulded by society. To maximise the potential and minimise the risks, we must approach its development coherently, taking into account its economic, social and political impact as part of an overall strategy.