Springer Nature Women Interview: The importance of digital inclusion

In honour of today’s International Day for Access to Information, Springer Nature Women spoke to me about the importance of digital inclusion, global socio-economic disruption and resilience, digital transformation, the current projects I am working on, and hopes for the future. Hope it will inspire you!

The Right to Know – Building Back Better with Access to Information is the theme of this year’s International Day for Universal Access to Information.  It highlights the importance of access to information to protect and promote fundamental freedoms.

Dr Danica Radovanovic, a sociologist of internet technology, and senior advisor on digital inclusion and digital literacy sheds some light on the importance of digital inclusion and her work.

How do you define digital inclusion?

Digital inclusion is a socio-technological process that encompasses individuals, communities, and vulnerable groups being able to have access and digital skills to use internet technologies and therefore to be able to participate and benefit from today’s growing information society. Digital inclusion influences improved livelihoods. And 2021, in the current digital landscape, the revolution and revelation are in online work, online socialization, online learning, and all that on the remote. It is more than ever relevant to address the present digital transformation challenges in society in order to understand, repair, regenerate, renew, and strive in the (digital)future.

How did you become interested in digital inclusion?

I have been involved in internet technologies since 1998, both in the research and development sector, and I am privileged to witness and contribute to the development of the internet. During that time, two decades ago, the digital divide term was coined and was primarily related to the technological gaps between haves and have nots. However, a decade ago during my research, I came to some interesting findings on the second level of the digital divide, which is the lack of digital literacy and skills. Equally, if not a more relevant factor for the strategic and successful use of digital technologies.

Internet is a basic human right, and it should be accessible to anyone on this planet. The same goes for access to information and knowledge. Everyone has the right to educate themselves and to be informed. That aspect of human rights is very important to me.

What is the current state of Internet governance? Do you see things getting more regulated, especially regarding the social web?

Internet governance and social web regulations are wide and deep topics that require a special focus as various governments are adopting varying approaches to regulating them. One of the Internet challenges that demand our attention is related to regulation for peoples safety, privacy, and security while maintaining freedom of speech. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become public agora, and various governments are adopting varying approaches and laws to regulating them, which can restrict speech. These platforms do not respect net neutrality because algorithms make decisions about what people see or do not see. Speaking of the freedom of speech and the freedom of information….

Right now, this September 2021, the EU Commission proposed a Path to the Digital Decade to deliver the EU’s digital transformation by 2030, and at the same time the UN’s Secretary-General, on the more global level, published the Common agenda with 12 recommendations areas, with the priority to Leave no one Behind and where the emphasis on Digital Inclusion in the new digital light and life.

Certainly, one of the solutions, together in networked partnerships, is to come up with the common policy and regulatory frameworks for improving the net neutrality mechanisms, infrastructure, innovation licensing, etc.  If governments, businesses, cross-sector organizations work together in innovative partnerships, we can make the internet better and more inclusive.

I hope that these new recommendations and initiatives will facilitate the conversation between various stakeholders, and contribute to regenerative technologies.

What do you see as the biggest advances and the biggest drawbacks brought on by the Internet in regards to inclusion? What can companies do to help when it comes to digital inclusion? What can individuals to do help?

Internet technology is not a magic wand nor a necessary evil. In the past times, we used to look at digital and tools that they were keeping people apart. At this moment of collective trauma that we are all experiencing, they are bringing people together. Digital tools maintained the connection between people during lockdowns, and make them feel included. They enabled us to reach out to a colleague, a friend, a long-distance family member. We have creativity, collaboration, community, small talk, humour, that entire realm of interaction and learning that internet technology enables.

One of our basic human needs is to belong to a group, a community. A sense of belonging positively affect engagement in the community. And through engagement, we create literate and knowledge societies, and make connections and build quality relationships. The power of connected learning and creating resilient communities came upfront and that is a beautiful thing to see how people get together and help each other. For example, in the United States, in New Mexico, there is this phenomenon in digital skills practice called, Teeniors. Teeniors are tech-savvy teens and young adults who help older adults learn technology through one-on-one, personal coaching. This practice fosters generational connections, young adults help seniors to use new electronic devices and teach them basic digital skills. Never underestimate the power of connecting communities, individual and community solidarity and responsibility to help the other whenever we can.

The drawbacks are obvious. Low-income communities and low-income countries are directly affected by the digital divide and digital illiteracy, in some countries functional literacy, and thus, the ability to participate in a digital society. These inequalities influence dynamics in a governmental, economic, and educational setting, like work and personal lives become increasingly technologized. For example, financial digital skills are very relevant, especially in underdeveloped countries where people use mobile money for transactions. And if they don’t possess digital skills, they are excluded from finance dynamics.

The internet magnifies the other problems in our society. Privacy and security issues, hate speech, online discrimination, misogyny, racism, gender inequality, mobbing, and so on. Besides that, we have challenges in the financing, networking, and regulatory environments as well as deploying and scaling business models that can sustainably provide digital inclusion projects to low-income regions. Initiatives like the GIGA project, Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA), DQ Institute, DTCs (Digital Transformation Centers), Basic Internet Foundation contribute to recommendations of the High-level panel for Digital Cooperation as we are moving towards an inclusive digital economy and society.

You’ve worked on so many fascinating projects at the UN, Basic Internet Foundation, PRIO, University of Oslo, etc. Are there any you’d like to speak about? Feel free to speak about them all!

Currently, I am engaged at the University of Oslo as a senior innovation and research associate, working on the NURTURE project for digital social innovation in higher education. Besides, I am collaborating with PRIO (The Peace Research

Institute Oslo) on the 3-year project Shaping the Digital World Order: Norms and Agency along the Digital Silk Road in Southeast Asia. I serve as an academic board member who advises on educational programming and pedagogy at the ICAF (International ChildArt Foundation), DC. And I am an author and editor of the forthcoming Springer book on Digital Literacy. More info at: https://www.danicar.info

In my work, I am passionate about societal, psychological and communication aspects of internet technologies. I love to see how digital technologies strengthen and empower us as individuals and as a society, how they make us more resilient, more intelligent and more collaborative. I believe in the regenerative technologies that serve humanity, not the other way around.

Aside from my internet-related work, I wrote a book of prose, short stories, a record of the past twenty-five years. I am looking forward to seeing it out this autumn.

Do you think the pandemic and/or the political climate in the last year have brought some of these issues to the forefront?

Not only did it bring all the inequalities and gaps to the surface, but it magnified for dozen times, if not more. The global socio-economic disruption in the past year and a half highlighted the importance of access to reliable and transparent information for the public good, but also its role in responding to emergencies.

We are taught to be tech-savvy, to have the skills to utilize the Internet and information on the Internet. While this is the case for many, it is not so for all. We have seen this in the past year and a half, how much and to what extend we lack in digital skills; that those without the access and skills got more left behind and disconnected, and us – on Global North, how we had to learn and relearn new pathways and skills to join the digital highway. Many of us, had to reach and ask our junior colleague or a child to help to set up the technology, install zoom, other apps, how to record a video, how to create and share the content with a larger group of people, use the cloud, change the privacy settings, change the background or learn how to press unmute.

Digital resilience encompasses the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed by individuals to thrive in this digital world and be confident in meeting the challenges and demands of the digital era.

What do you hope for the future?

First, I hope that we will preserve our planet and do whatever we can for the environment, climate, global warming, and not to further spoil it. This is the place where we live, the air and water and the resources we consume.

And second, the current global context is that we have prolonged uncertainty in collective trauma and grief. We lost the grounding structure, and this kind of experience requires mutual reliance and solidarity. There is this term called tragic optimism, a term coined by Austrian psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, how people continue to find meaning and hope amid entropic times. I am hoping that each of us will find meaning in our own lives during this chaos, cultivate our micro garden, literally and metaphorically. I hope that everyone will work on building their knowledge, competence, and realize that having digital skills nowadays is the power. And that being an independent thinker who possesses critical thinking skills with inner vertical of creativity, empathy, ethics, integrity and humility that contributes to the society and the community, is a superpower.

That is what I am hoping for in the future.

 

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