According to a report published today by the European Commission, 56% of Europeans now regularly use the internet, and 80% of these have access to a high-speed connection (compared to only one third in 2004). This makes Europe the “world leader in broadband internet”, so give yourselves all a pat on the back. After all, you wouldn’t be reading this without it.
The digital economy is seen as a way out of the current financial crisis, and the Commission sees young people as the drivers that will get us there. If the demographic of The Lobby’s Facebook fanpage is anything to go by, that means you folks reading this now, and you have a friend, in Information Society & Media Commissioner Viviane Reding: “These young people are intensive internet users and are also highly demanding consumers. To release the economic potential of these ‘digital natives’, we must make access to digital content an easy and fair game.”
Hurrah, cries the Lobby, about time too. It’s nice to see decision-makers actually exploring the benefits of going digital and not, like Archbishop Vincent Nichols in the UK, wringing their hands in worry that the online networks are “transient” and could push certain people to commit suicide if such friendships turn out to be just that.
The Lobby of course feels differently. Online networks open up a whole new area of networking opportunities – “friends” if you will – and it is all contributing to the world becoming a smaller place. Notwithstanding the risks, which have been well-documented, the kids of today are growing up chatting to like-minded individuals from all over the world and are becoming more world-aware than our forebears as a result. Cultural barriers are being deconstructed and mutual understanding is on the rise – not an insignificant development given world events in the last decade.
Whilst reporting on Archbishop Nichols’s remarks, the BBC interviewed an otherwise pleasant family, the parents of which forbid their children from accessing the internet because they preferred them to avoid these supposedly “transient” friendships.
Being glued to the computer is no way to live through one’s childhood, but at the same time one can’t help but wonder whether by effectively banning all forms of online communication this particular family is retreating to the dark ages. Even decision-makers in their ivory towers are seeing the benefits of engaging 2.0-style with their electorates – just ask the current US President. Hopefully today’s Commission’s report will provide some necessary and non-transient food for thought for Archbishop Nichols and his followers.