It is a fact that our society has undertaken a digital turn in almost every sphere, but is that digitalization promoting social changes? What are examples of positive social changes that are happening due to the digital reshaping of our society, economy and industries?
It is indisputable that digitalization and digital technologies are increasingly entering the daily lives of the active members of society. They have changed our outlook on the world and have become a crucial part of our lives, as we perform most of our activities online, a phenomenon which was catalyzed by the way that our lives were forever changed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no social, economic, or political aspect that has escaped the rapid and far-reaching transformation of digitalization.
There are many debates as to whether technology is a positive or a negative element to the development of the humans and their societies, but it is fair to say that it can be used both for good and bad, and that it is up to the community to shape it and use it as a practical tool for achieving social changes and making a positive impact on issues that matter. It is exactly the society which gives a sense of purpose to the technology and the technological advancements. The members of a community have a collective power to influence social change.
Social changes are changes in the relations among the members of a society that transform the overall dynamics and produce long-term consequences in that society. Changes are constant, and they are happening all the time, so it is up to the people to influence them as much as possible and direct them in a direction which would benefit as many individuals, groups and causes as possible.
In order for a social change to happen, it is required for conversations and debates among the stakeholders affected with specific issues to take place, with the goal of reaching agreements and compromises. These parties need to find ways to cooperate towards positive and long-lasting changes that reflect their shared values.
Digital innovations provide new opportunities and improve the efficiency of many areas including health services, transportation, energy, agriculture, manufacturing, retail and public administration. Digital novelties can also contribute towards improving the governing process by helping policy-makers reach better decisions and engage citizens. Additionally, the Internet and all of the fields that branch off from it, have a platform and a potential to promote positive societal principles like democracy, diversity and to allow the exercise of human right, such as freedom of expression and freedom to information.
Digital technology has so far lead to numerous positive impacts in fundamental aspects such as health care, law enforcement, art, education, mobility, and religion. Video conferencing, for example, plays an essential role both in the healthcare industry, as it provides doctors with the opportunity to treat patients in a virtual environment, and in the legal environment, as it enables judges to listen to the cases of criminals who cannot enter courtrooms because of security reasons.
It is indisputable that digitalization can also harm and negatively impact society, as it can often lead to the destruction of creativity, or it can consume several productive hours that people have in a day, and all in all, the long term consequences of digital technology are not always foreseeable.
Bearing in mind all of the abovementioned, technology has played a crucial role in uniting the world and breaking unnecessary barriers. Digital technologies will continue to have an essential role in our lives and the overall community for years to come.
It is the role of the civil society to advocate for the right role of digital technology in promoting productive debates and conversations. By carrying out these procedures on digital platforms, it becomes possible to include considerably more parties and take into account numerous points, that might not necessarily arise normally, that can significantly influence the road towards improvements and can ultimately lead to positive social changes. As the pandemic has set in stone the fact that an access to the basic digital technologies of today is a basic right, and is no longer just a privilege, that means that with each day the digitalization is getting closer and closer to having impacted each and every individual on this planet.
Neighborhood information systems, civic engagement platforms, volunteered geographic information systems, crowdfunding platforms for sustainability or social issues, are some cases worth mentioning. For example the application Ushahidi was designed to map violent acts following the 2008 elections in Kenya. It aggregates and diffuses information collected by citizens about urban violence, which enables citizens and local authorities to take precautionary measures. Another application: I Wheel Share, facilitates the collection and diffusion of information about urban (positive and negative) experiences that may be useful to disabled people.