Information Society Models and the New Everyday Life

Article of the month

Helsinki, 1 January, 2004 — Information Society Models and the New Everyday Life

Global competition affects all parts of the world, even the tiniest villages in Finland. Globalisation is intensifying and the development is leading us to a situation, in which action taken by one significant actor can have significant consequences that can be felt in all corners of the world.

The world economy is more connected than ever before. At the same time, traditional ways of life are disappearing, labour mobility is increasing and production is gradually being moved to lower cost countries. Technological and economic factors seem to be behind every major decision and policy line. Was it the information society that brought all this to us, or did these changes emerge despite of it?

Information and communication technologies have indeed played a role in spreading the symptoms of globalisation to all corners of the world. However, information society itself is not a symptom. It is a goal, which we try to achieve through a consciously chosen policy, thereby striving to utilize the best elements of globalisation and ICT for the benefit of all, while concurrently trying to minimize its negative effects.

The development of an information society provides us an opportunity to modernise the structures of our welfare society, hence allowing us to save the best parts of it, which is so important to us in the Nordic countries, and at the same time to renovate its obsolete elements.

The Finnish Government sees that information society policy continues to be a core element in the pursuit of welfare. Modern information and communication technologies (ICTs) provide great potential for promoting sustainable development, transparency, accountability, democracy as well as good governance among many other things. The challenge is to harness the ICT tools in such a manner that the potential their utilisation provides, can be exploited in the most effective way. Technology alone, without effective means to utilise it, only promotes productivity and stimulates growth in one, though important field, namely technology production.

It is important to remember that the starting point and basis for all the development in the pursuit of a modern information society are, in fact, the needs of our citizens. Successful solutions and services are built on an understanding of people’s requirements.

Let me take broadband as an example - although the situation in Finland concerning the core broadband network is good, as it now covers all the Finnish municipalities, hence bringing 75 per cent of all the households within reach of the broadband network, the staggering fact is that only less than 15 per cent of all the households subscribe to it. A survey, which was done last year in Finland, showed that 77 per cent of the Finnish households felt that they did not need a broadband connection.

These figures emphasise the fact that although the infrastructure is important, we must now concentrate on making the broadband more attractive for the customers by actively enhancing content production and the development of related services. This is an example that well illustrates the fact, how important it is to cater for the needs of the citizens, if we wish to succeed.

To maximize the benefits and to minimize the negative effects of the information society is exactly the goal that the new strategy, or formally information society policy programme, adopted by our Government in September is aiming for. The main goal of this strategy is to increase competitiveness of the Finnish companies and Finland as a whole, and to promote social and regional equality through wider adoption and utilisation of ICT in all parts of the society. The actions are focused on network infrastructure, information society skills and readiness, education, research & development, eGovernment, social and health services and eBusiness among other things.

The programme is coordinated by the Prime Minister, which signifies the Government’s political commitment to the aims presented in the programme. Furthermore, the Government has nominated a specific information society council to act as an advisory forum for the strategy. In addition to the key Ministers, the council consists of representatives of business, regional actors, research community, labour market organisations and other key establishments.

To evaluate the real effects of the strategies on the everyday life of the citizens and firms, can only be done through a careful analysis, which examines this issue from various perspectives. This event provides an invaluable opportunity for researchers, business people, politicians and civil servants to do this and to understand how life in the information society is different from life in the industrial society. This is especially important now as the future is clouded with uncertainties related to economic, social, political and technological development.

Leena Luhtanen
Minister of Transport and Communication of Finland