Technology is becoming truly ubiquitous: it is the backbone of people’s daily lives, transforming and underpinning how we work, engage with friends and family, manage our health, finances, shop, travel – in fact, everything.
According to research by Ofcom, nine in ten people had internet access at home in 2018.1 Smartphone ownership continues to rise, with 87% of respondents to research by Deloitte in 2018 claiming to own or have access to one and 95% of those using it every day.2 While this technological progress is substantial, it must also be something in which every single person feels they have a stake.
Different segments of our society benefit from technology in different ways
7 in 10 commuters use a smartphone on their journey 5
Lower-income households and over-54s are less likely to have smartphones, laptops and tablets, but are as likely to have a TV 4
58% of UK households own a tablet and 44% of UK adults own a games console 3
One in every five pounds spent in UK shops is now online 6
48% of people use fingerprint recognition to authorise payments and purchases 7
In 2018, 22 million people managed their current account on their phone, and it is predicted that by 2023, 35 million people – that’s 72% of the UK adult population – will bank via a phone app 8
Diverse online society
Statistics reveal a sliding scale between the most switched-on among the online population, and those who are not yet getting the same opportunities. There is the generation of online natives – those who have grown up working, banking, socialising, gaming via digital platforms and know nothing else – and those who are still catching up. So, how can organisations work together to ensure that the technological revolution brings benefits to everyone? Those of us in the tech industry must stay conscious of the checks and balances required to ensure online innovation does not service an ever-smaller group of people. The value of this innovation needs to be felt and shared by a diverse online society. Let’s, as an industry, work to ensure that the technological advances we deliver are reaching all social-economic levels of society. This is about more than widening access through broadband: while this is certainly a key component of online inclusion, it’s really only base camp in the journey to an inclusive connected society. Connectivity gives people access to an online world full of new opportunity and services - this world need not be daunting, confusing, or inaccessible.
Connected citizen ecosystem
While there is significant focus on specific technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence and blockchain, to name but a few, as the game-changers of our time, for most people these technologies will operate in the background. In the foreground, we will see our society being shaped by the Internet of Things, connecting devices and services into an increasingly seamless and efficient citizen digital ecosystem.
Across that ecosystem will be clustered an ever-increasing number of devices and volume of data that will deliver everyday services, interactions and experiences. Our work, mobility, banking, health and wellbeing will all be linked through our own powerful online ecosystem, coalescing and evolving around us as individual citizens. To ensure this ecosystem exists for everyone requires close collaboration between the organisations who design and deliver technological innovation and those who design and deliver services in both public and private sectors.
The next stage: online and digital society
We have an idea about where we are heading, but society needs more than just technology to get us there. We need our politicians to ensure that they engage with the connected world so that they can steward the right advances for the benefit of citizens. We need a switched-on political class who understands and can provide the momentum and governance to realise these opportunities. We also need more crosssector partnership. The Government’s Digital Strategy has already set out its approach to ensuring that people can participate fully in the digital economy and are prepared for technological change. Building on this, the Digital Skills Innovation Fund is just one example of how public sector bodies, employers and training providers can work together to address local or regional digital challenges while supporting people from underrepresented groups and disadvantaged backgrounds into digital roles.
In recent years, we have seen law-makers catching up with the full power and effects of digital platforms. The recent Online Harms White Paper is an attempt from the UK Government to set the course for regulating the internet, but policy making that seeks to control and manage will not be the solution that enables and drives innovation. There is a new dawn breaking. We are on the cusp of another leap in connectivity that will further redesign all aspects of our lives. We must work together, across sectors and with regulators and policymakers, to stay alive to its full potential and deliver that potential in a way that is positive for all.
This article is part of the Digital Vision for Digital Britain opinion paper, which discusses how industry, regulators and policymakers should work together to realise the full potential of the latest leaps forward in technology.
1 Communications Market Report, Ofcom, 2018
2 Mobile Consumer Survey: The UK Cut, Deloitte, 2018
3 Communications Market Report, Ofcom, 2018
4 Communications Market Report, Ofcom, 2018
5 Communications Market Report, Ofcom, 2018
6 Office for National Statistics, Retail Sales Index, 2019
7 Mobile Consumer Survey: The UK Cut, Deloitte, 2018