Getting with the programming – the digitalisation of the EU

Carlynn McCarthy

“The Future is now.”
-Ralph Rivera, Head of BBC Future Media.

A stellar line-up of digital champions, media moguls and policy heavyweights took to the stage last Thursday in Dublin Castle for the Plenary Session of 2013’s Digital Agenda Assembly (#da13).

Ireland's Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, and Vice-President of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes, speak to media at the 2013 Digital Agenda Assembly in Dublin. Photo: Carlynn McCarthy

Ireland’s Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, and Vice-President of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes, speak to media at the 2013 Digital Agenda Assembly in Dublin. Photo: Carlynn McCarthy

Two of the first speakers and aforementioned policy ‘heavyweights’ were Ireland’s Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, and Vice-President of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes.  Minister Rabbitte spoke about the importance of connectivity and digital engagement and how the government hopes to increase broadband connectivity in rural areas by 2016.  Commissioner Kroes, meanwhile, focused on the importance of the digital single economy, declaring roaming charges ‘the death of the single economy’.  Both touched upon the three main themes of the day – education, innovation and trust.

Education

Many of the day’s keynote speakers were non-EU citizens, reflecting the dominance of non-European countries and individuals in the ITC sector.  CEO of Tweak.com, Jerry Kennelly, linked this back to European education systems, highlighting the huge disconnect between education and industry demand throughout Europe.

As of April this year, the unemployment rate amongst Europe’s young people (under 25’s) stood at 23 per cent.  In stark contrast to this, by 2015 there will be almost 1,000,000 ITC sector vacancies in the EU.  The resounding message from yesterday’s speakers was that education and industry need to collaborate.

Innovation
Lord David Puttnam, Ireland's Digital Champion, speaks to media at the 2013 Digital Agenda Assembly in Dublin. Photo: Carlynn McCarthy

Lord David Puttnam, Ireland’s Digital Champion, speaks to media at the 2013 Digital Agenda Assembly in Dublin. Photo: Carlynn McCarthy

Award-winning filmmaker and educator, Lord David Puttnam, spoke of the different gears at which the tech sector and politics work: “Technology is shifting on its axis and politics moves very slowly.”  He warned of the potential generational gulf that will appear if we move with technology but leave some of our citizens behind and believes if we avoid complacency and bad teaching and adopt a ‘why not me?’ attitude we can counteract the current digital stagnancy in Europe.  His parting shot as he left the stage was “what will we do with what we can do?”

What should we do?

Look to Silicon Valley, according to Jordan Casey, a 13-year old young entrepreneur and online gaming dynamo from Waterford, who spoke about the different reactions he encountered in Europe and Silicon Valley.  In Silicon Valley investors looked at his idea, while in Europe they looked at his age.  He wasn’t taken seriously by the old-school thinkers here in Europe but has received huge acclaim on US host sites such as Adobe.

Trust

Trust is a very important commodity for Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) who wish to work online, and painfully relevant following the recent PRISM scandal.  US cryptographer and online security expert, Bruce Schneider, says “trust is essential for any human interaction.  40% of people don’t trust the internet but use it anyway, [even though] the online business model is built to betray our trust by giving our data to advertisers.”  Data protection issues arise as “less tangible assets are more vulnerable”.  How do you get your personal information back intact?

While regulations are normally seen as barriers rather than enablers in the ITC sector, many of the speakers felt that it would be necessary for the state to put in place basic policy safety nets for technology consumers, i.e. basic data protection policy in cloud computing in order to ‘create’ trust in the burgeoning ITC sector.

Harri Koponen of Rovi Entertainment Ltd, the company which brought us Angry Birds, spoke of “The Three E’s” – education, entrepreneurship and entertainment.  Education needs to teach 21st-century skills using resources already available to both teachers and students such as smartphones and personal laptops.  If we keep people in the digital loop, we can avoid the generational gulf and digital divide touched upon by Lord Puttnam, lower unemployment levels and fill the market demand for personnel with ITC skills.

A win-win situation, surely.  So put away your typewriters, boot up the laptops and get with the programming!

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