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Caught in the digital impacts

While digital tools help us enhance different aspects of our life, concerns are mounting about their personal and societal impacts

Digital technologies have advanced more rapidly than any innovation in our history. Unlike the generations before, we have many choices today to make!

With the rise of the Internet of Things and mobile devices, our lives and habits have clearly changed. Everything is now connected to the Internet and if it’s not, it’s about to! The governments, businesses and individuals together are pouring in tonnes of money for digital transformation.

At the beginning of the second quarter of the current year, according to DataPortal, there was a total of 5.18 billion people around the world who were using the Internet, equaling 64.6 per cent of the world’s total population. The latest data indicates that the world’s connected population grew by close to 147 million users in the 12 months to April 2023.

Increases in global Internet access mean that the number of people who remain “unconnected” to the Internet has fallen to 2.85 billion, with the majority of these people living in Southern and Eastern Asia, and Africa.

The vast majority of the world’s Internet users – 95 per cent – use mobile phones to go online at least some of the time, and mobile phones now account for more than 57 per cent of our online time, as well as close to 60 per cent of the world’s web traffic.

This means digital technology has made our world more reachable, now more than ever. The impact is seen in many different areas of interaction.

While video calling and work-from-home options are becoming permanent options, data pooling and artificial intelligence are being used to track and diagnose issues in agriculture, health, and the environment, or to perform daily tasks such as navigating traffic or paying a bill.

For instance, in the health sector frontier technologies including artificial intelligence are helping to save lives, diagnose diseases and extend life expectancy. In education, virtual learning environments and distance learning have opened up programmes to students who would otherwise be excluded.

Social media connects almost half of the entire global population. It enables people to make their voices heard and to talk to people across the world in real-time.

While digital tools help us enhance different aspects of our lives, concerns are also mounting about the personal and societal impacts of technology. There are thousands of cases in which people are exposed to scams in online spaces such as social media platforms and online marketplaces costing hapless people billions every year.

Experts agree that some harm will arise in the future, especially to the vulnerable. There is anxiety that people’s online activities may undermine truth, foment distrust, jeopardize individuals’ well-being, trolls weaken community, kill privacy, make institutions less secure and open up larger social divisions.

Also, social media scams add to the level of stress, in some cases forcing many people to end their lives and negatively affecting workplaces and social settings. They can also reinforce prejudices and sow discord, by giving hate speech and misinformation a platform.

In the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres “such a divide could establish a digital Berlin Wall”! Still, all eyes are on new metrics in the digital world! The entire planet is going digital!

The writer is a senior journalist and author with nearly four decades of experience in broadsheet newspapers and magazines in India and the Gulf region

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