Page 6 of 10
“Future-proofing” digital economies in the Asia-Pa
It is tempting to believe – but false – that the ability of a government to protect its country’s digital economy against becoming outdated lies entirely upon technological infrastructure building, committed investment and an active R&D programme. These matters are clearly relevant for a future-proof approach and are closely related to the political realm. However, social and cultural factors are also crucial. For the present to be inoculated against the future, that future must be constructed as a place of exciting possibilities rather than a fate to be feared, and change must be embraced as positive.
For an economy to be future-proofed, it must vibrantly and enthusiastically enjoy the digital present and look forward with keen anticipation to the digital future. Further, the productive and creative use of ICT requires critical thinking skills. This is much easier to achieve in societies with a high-income, well-educated population who see their own future – and their children’s – as being dependent upon keeping up with emerging ICT trends. Such people are motivated to try out the new technologies as they emerge, and the costs of technology failure are more easily absorbed when the investment is not seen as a major expenditure.
In less affluent societies, however, where individual disposable wealth might preclude majority ownership of advanced ICT, positive attitudes can be nurtured by government campaigns. Such initiatives may themselves be linked to an economic transformation in the society. Singapore’s Intelligent Island programme, Malaysia’s Vision 2020 and Taiwan’s Green Silicon Island, for example, have all helped to drive prosperity in those nations, while South Korea’s achievements with the rollout of broadband services after the 1997 economic crisis are globally famous. Notably, these government policies are particularly inclusive, since even citizens with low literacy can benefit from audiovisual information provided through broadband connections.
Government messages about the desirability of a digital future benefit from clarity and consistency. Otherwise, governments might think that they are promoting a digital future, but instead they find other messages being communi¬cated. For example, when the authorities, feeling threatened by the intentions or actions of some Internet users, move to clamp down on cyber cafés and Internet access points, they cannot be surprised when parents ban their children from visiting those places. When Internet dissidents are put on trial and imprisoned, the effect is to send dissent underground and to dissuade educated and involved people from developing culturally appropriate uses of the Internet. Where ICT use is seen as carrying the risk of repercussions, the wholehearted adoption of these technologies by the broader population is inhibited, resulting in only moderate, mainstream and pro-government views being expressed that are less well-represented than would be the case if the Internet were used freely by all members of society – both in favour of and critical of government actions. To encourage the digital future-proofing of their citizenry, therefore, governments would be wise to allow the Internet to be used freely to express non-violent views consistent with free speech and democratic processes. Although some people do use the Internet for illegal activities, law enforcement agencies should clearly communicate that it is the activity that is illegal, not the use of the Internet as such.
Another barrier that some governments set up is to block access to websites and servers that they perceive as jeopardising their interests. The message these governments are sending to their people is that the people cannot be trusted to make their own decisions about what they access. If a government compromises the potential of the Internet by delivering only part of the network to its citizens, then the development of the sector will be held back. If the technology is to deliver maximum benefit, then all the potential of the Internet needs to be accessible so as to fuel the imagination and to fire commitment to the future.