Well-being in the Digital Age

Posted on Monday, 17 February 2020
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The digital age presents many opportunities, but also challenges.  The OECD's Going Digital Project contains a wealth of information on the potential impact of digital technology, and research and proposals on how we can prepare.

The 2019 OECD report How’s Life in the Digital Age? presents evidence on the opportunities and risks associated with the digital transformation. 

Among the main findings are:

  • While more and more people in OECD countries have access to digital technologies, a digital divide persists.
  • Inequalities in access and use of digital technologies by age, gender, education and other socio-economic markers imply that certain groups are better placed than others in harnessing digital technologies for achieving better wellbeing outcomes in many life dimensions, such as jobs and income, health, work-life balance and social connections.
  • While mobile phones have surely improved the living conditions of the world’s poor (providing connections to people that had none before), the growth of large digital companies with high capitalisation has also contributed to wealth concentration at the top.
  • In the health field, use of expensive technologies may also contribute to higher inequalities.
  • While the digital transformation offers opportunities to people in terms of attaining higher levels of well-being, it also confronts societies with a risk of higher inequalities in many well-being outcomes. 
  • People need skills adapted to a digital world. Only 31% of adults have sufficient problem-solving skills for operating in technology-rich environments. A wide range of skills is needed to succeed in the digital world of work: these include cognitive skills, ICT skills, complementary skills, specialist skills and the ability to cope with change and keep learning, including when out of work. 

Ireland’s performance on digital skills is concerning.  Less than half of the adult population has at least basic digital skills, well below the EU average (57 per cent) and only 28 per cent of people have digital skills above a basic level, below the EU average of 31 per cent.  In order to make the most of the opportunities present byy digital technology, and to mitigate the potential negative impacts then Ireland must first address the digital skills gap.  We must develop an education and training system that can support adults throughout their lives as they acquire skills and navigate the transitions that will occur as a result of the digital transformation of the economy.