The era of digitalization: from communication highways to disinformation and infodemic. Opportunities and potential risks
How to participate in today’s digital society? Which are the opportunities for older persons? Is the ‘digital society’ taking into account the ‘competences and skills’ of older persons and their rights to participate in society? How to create ‘room for all generations’ in this information society?
These questions have been around for a long time in the European seniors’ generation. During the COVID-19 crisis and the subsequent lockdowns, the use of digital technologies became a must to ensure continuity of work, keep in touch with family members & friends, support isolated relatives in hospitals and long-term care facilities and so much more… More than ever, digitalization has been shown to help support and reach older persons during the COVID-19 crisis, but it has also shown that not everyone has the key -the necessary competences and skills- to open the magic doors of the digital world.
Of particular interest are the recent EU Council conclusions on ‘Human rights, participation and well-being of older persons in the era of digitalization’, adopted on 12 October 2020 under the German Presidency. The conclusions of the Trio Presidency (Germany-Portugal-Slovenia) holding the Presidency from June 2020 until December 2021 gave in December 2020 a follow up to these general perspectives. They introduced their common strategy and ambition, saying: “Population ageing is an unprecedented phenomenon in human history. It creates many challenges and opportunities for policy-makers and citizens alike. Demographic challenges are at least as important as the challenges in the fields of climate and technological developments. They affect every area of our lives and transform our society.” Continuing in this perspective the Council Conclusions of 12 March 2021 on ‘Mainstreaming Ageing in Public Policies’ invited Member states to elaborate a strategic framework for mainstreaming ageing. Combined with the EU Commission’s ‘Green paper on ageing’ the roadmaps for integrated ageing policies are presented. With the introduction of the important concept of the ‘life-cycle approach’, all generations are involved in creating inclusive societies for all ages. The life-cycle approach reflects the universal impact of ageing and focuses on both the personal and wider societal implications of ageing.
Also in the field of digitalization new impulses were given. In its communication titled ‘2030 Digital Compass: the European way for the Digital Decade’ the EU Commission outlined the EU’s ambition to pursue digitalization policies that empower individuals and businesses towards a human-centred, sustainable and more prosperous digital future.
To introduce us to and give us insight into the opportunities and risks of today’s ‘Digital Society’, we have invited as keynote speaker:
Patrick Penninckx, Head of the Information Society Department at the Council of Europe. He brought his keynote speech as a journey around the broad horizon of opportunities of digital technology as well for several areas of society. He also highlighted the risks and the necessity of political frameworks and he called for ethical standards in digital behavior. He agreed that in all kinds of initiatives, the “digital divide” between ages, but also between regions, should be overcome and solved. Find his presentation here.
Two experienced policymakers reacted to Patrick Penninckx’ keynote speech and added some new thoughts & initiatives:
Sophie Michaelides, Communication Expert – PR, Media and Marketing Strategist in Cyprus discussed her experiences with digital technology in the relationship between politicians and citizens. Her speech was an enthusiastic plea for appreciation of the role of seniors and…she called for more assertiveness among them.
Ivo Belet, Deputy Head of Cabinet to Vice President of the European Commission in charge of Democracy and Demography, Dubravka Šuica, previously MEP and journalist He focused on four coming initiatives:
- Green paper on ageing and the ongoing consultation;
- Commission’s plan for rural areas;
- Conference on the future of Europe;
- European democracy action plan.
Find his speech here.
The discussion made clear that a great part of the problems (acces, knowledge, skills, financial) must be solved at local level. And…. that also our seniors’ associations have a role to play. “Let us look at this conference as a first chapter” president An Hermans said. In this field we certainly must take responsibility to voice seniors’ needs and views, but also create initiatives to facilitate seniors’ participation in the digital era.