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A magazine on science, technology and business

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Digitalisation in closing the gap

Riitta Ekholm | 4.6.2015

When we talk about the D word, we no longer refer to devaluation. We mean the digital revolution. Can digitalisation improve equality? The answer is simple: Yes, it can.

The new Digibarometer 2015 survey reveals both positives and negatives about Finland’s digital position. Despite widespread technical skills, not enough has been made of digital technology. The barometer measures how digitalisation makes a difference in society.

On the whole, Finland is doing well, climbing to second place out of 22 countries after Denmark. While Finland enjoys the best conditions in the world for making use of the digital expansion, in practice the country is lagging behind the top league, in fifth place. Finland’s good overall performance is based on a level playing field. 

It’s not far from the truth to say that nearly all Finns can access the Internet. Regardless of age, gender, status and where they live, Finns are largely equal in the digital world.

However, it is too optimistic to claim that the nation’s adult population is digitally conversant simply because they have embraced online banking. In the Digital Barometer, the citizens’ IT skills were only ranked average.

 

Creating value together

VTT’s team leader for digital services research Anu Seisto gives her insight into the results of the 2015 Digital Barometer for Finland.

– We received similar results from the EIT ICT Labs’ Trusted Cloud online survey, with just over 500 respondents across Finland, says Seisto.

Access to social media, such as Facebook, is fairly equally spread across Finland. Of the respondents aged 65 or over, 70 per cent had a Facebook account and were familiar with cloud services, while Instagram, Spotify and Netflix were mainly popular among the young age groups.

– Finnish libraries and schools are great levellers for digital service access. Smart phones are widely used by primary school children, regardless of their parents’ level of income. The talk about young people being digital natives is not for nothing, says Seisto.

Finnish attitudes towards technology are positive, but the threshold for using digital services should be lowered. If services include familiar elements, they will be easier to adopt. For example, older people may like a game of Patience and end up getting a computer to practise the card game.

– Use of Skype has also become more pre­valent among the older age groups, particu­larly when grandparents don’t live close to their grandchildren. The distance does not stop grandparents when they want to see how the children learn to crawl or play.

Seisto studies the user aspect in technology.­ The key characteristics of digital services include effectiveness, feasibility and, most of all, the ability to meet user needs. For this purpose, Seisto’s team also gathers information on human behaviour.

– Data protection must be guaranteed in order for users to have trust in the services.

Digitalisation changes our perceptions of how things work. Previously, we made a product, sold it and created a business. This process has been replaced by services.

Smart phones are rarely used only for making phone calls any longer. Instead, the camera and messaging such as WhatsApp, video and social media have become the most important features of smart phones. 

– Creating value together is essential. Online, everybody has equal chances for participation and sharing information.


Even break

With the advance of the Internet in the 1990s, the digital gap became a hotly debated topic. Some citizens were able to connect to the net and use a computer and some were not. As this inequality has dramatically decreased, the digital gap is no longer discussed as much, says research professor Heikki Ailisto.

Developing countries in Africa, along with China, have gained access to ITC and digital tools. The gap now exists in terms of connection speeds and the quality of devices.

In the digital world, users cannot enjoy economic equality, fully realise their career prospects, participate in society or monitor their physical health without a high-speed internet connection. Digital access also improves productivity and thereby economic growth. We are by no means across the finishing line yet, and there is still plenty to do.

Education has always provided the means to achieve equality. In Finland, the comprehensive school system has guaranteed a level playing field for children. However, Ailisto claims development has now stalled in Finland. 

– At school, digitalisation currently means that pupils may have access to laptops or tablets. Instead, it could mean something totally different.

Ailisto mentions online courses, which have become commonplace in the United States. According to Ailisto, interactive teaching definitely beats lectures where students doze off, feel unengaged and leave with nothing to show for their time. 

Free online courses are a major step towards equal access to education. Some courses run by large universities are already available to the public for free. In 2006, Salman Khan, an American trainer of Bengali origin, set up a non-profit educational organisation with a mission to offer free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.

– Khan tutored his young relative in maths by email and had an idea of a platform that could offer exercises and teachers’ tools free of charge, says Ailisto.


Help from old-age technology

– Managing one’s health with the help of web applications, smart phone apps and a range of devices is a trend that encourages people to take up preventative health care, says team leader Johan Plomp

The widespread use of self-care apps would help to close the equality gap between those accessing public and private health care services. Opportunities for personal health monitoring are put to the test in Tekes’ strategic initiative, the DHR (Digital Health Revolution).

Over the years, Plomp and his colleagues have participated in several of VTT’s health care projects, which have supported elderly people in their efforts to manage independently in their own homes. The tools for helping the ageing ­population in their daily life include management and monitoring solutions for the living environment, digital and communication services, robotics and concepts facilitating remote care. 

Their current project, Empathic Products, explores the uses of VTT’s People Tracker technology, based on a motion detection sensor, in order to monitor the daily life of elderly people and to recognise emergencies. 

With the help of the international AAL programme (Ambient Assisted Living), VTT has also developed a method to measure balance. 

– When elderly persons fall and hurt themselves, their quality of life deteriorates, and the accident may prove costly to society, says Plomp.

VTT has also developed a method for diagnosing the early signs of Alzheimer’s. A start-up called Combinostics has been set up to bring the tool onto the market.

Plomp says it was great to see how people voted for Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (PKN) as Finland’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest. In the Eureka/ITEA DIYSE project, VTT collaborated with the Rinnekoti Foundation, developing digital instruments suitable for people with developmental disabilities and a control panel tool for use in music therapy.

 

 

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