Ladies and gentlemen.
While Iceland has a population of only 350.000, we are the most connected country in the world, placing first on ICT’s Development Index last year. 98% of all households in Iceland are connected to the internet which is the highest ratio in Europe. 86% of Icelandic adults have smartphones, which is not only the highest ratio in Europe but indeed the world). And data usage has increased exponentially during the last few years, or twenty-fold since 2011.
It comes as no surprise that this is due to social media! According to a recent study, 93% of Icelandic adults are on Facebook. To put this in context, about 43% of internet users in Germany are on Facebook and about 50% in Finland. The Icelandic study also revealed that 65% of adults are on Snapchat and 51% on Instagram.
And what are people doing and what do they like to see on social media? Well, let me tell you. People in Iceland are incredibly interested in food and recipes, with 1 out of 2 reporting that they like to see that kind of content. What was a little bit baffling to me, was that up there amongst the most favoured topics was cleaning and household chores with no less than 40% of social media users reporting their interest in the matter. Icelanders seem to have a great interest in getting cleaning tips and learning about new cleaning products.
What these numbers tell is that Iceland has a unique opportunity to utilize technology for the benefit of society. At the same time it is interesting to look at the pervasive effects digitalization has had on Iceland.
This is not a simple task. It is now nearly impossible to think of a sector of society that has not been influenced by digitalization. It has framed political discussion, changed the way we interact with our friends and loved ones, influenced the working environment for media and it has presented us with new threats that are close to epidemic in scale; such as cyber harassment and cyber sexual violence.
What effect will digitalization have on gender equality? We already see signs of the changes being more beneficial to men than women, with women holding a 17% share in digital education versus men’s 83%, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality.
We must have the foresight and courage to address both the difficult questions as well as the opportunities.
Iceland's transition into the digital era is made even more meaningful that this is a year of special celebration in Iceland. 2018 marks one hundred years since Iceland became a sovereign and independent state. During that century, the population has more than tripled, from about 90.000 to 350.000 inhabitants. However, the fact that we as a people could all fit nicely into 2 or 3 neighbourhoods here in Berlin will always have an impact on our lives. When it comes to digitalization, it presents both challenges and opportunities.
As a small and sparsely populated society, with about 2 million visits from tourists each year, technology is vital when it comes to businesses, communication and how we deliver public services. The fact that we are an island in the middle of the North-Atlantic also means that we rely heavily on secure and powerful data-connections to the rest of the world.
Iceland is in an optimal position when it comes to utilizing technology in public service. The Icelandic population were early adapters of the internet and both governments and the private sector caught on in creating favourable conditions. We now have a strong technological infrastructure, having for example placed at the top of ITU’s list as best performing country on the Information and Communication Technology Index as I mentioned before. Icelanders are also very adept at using technology – we have the highest number of homes with high-speed internet and we place second when it comes to internet usage. We have a population that is confident in seeking information, communicating and conducting business through the internet.
One of the key aspects that need to be present if we are to increase digital public service – is trust. People need to be as secure in their dealing with the public sector through digital means as they would be sitting across from a person providing the service. That is why cyber security is a key issue for my government when is comes to security.
And there are more challenges. Our sparsely populated country brings us one of them. A person dealing with a few public institutions in Iceland today may not expect a uniform level of technological ability or digital service. This lack of uniformity is one of my government’s priorities. Work is under way in creating a so-called one stop shop for all public service in Iceland. We have a lot to learn from Estonia who as we know are pioneers when it comes to digital transformation of public service.
One of the areas that holds the biggest promise of opportunity is health care and medical services. The distances between villages and homes can be far in Iceland, making it difficult to ensure timely access for all to medical professionals. Telemedicine as well as health technology might prove to be revolutionary for people’s lives in rural areas in Iceland.
There are signs that young men are likelier to seek medical assistance using technology than meeting a professional in person. This tells us that health technology may indeed help us to reach the goal of equal access to health care for all.
My government is focused on increasing investment in research, development and innovation because we know that public support will be essential for small and medium-sized innovative businesses who are the key to success to make our economy more diverse and resilient.
Even with all the opportunities digitalization brings us, we are still faced with immense challenges.
We have yet to realize how to deal with the less positive effects that these technological changes have brought about.
It is no understatement that the emergence of social media has completely altered our sense of reality. While the internet forgets nothing, we become ever more forgetful. According to recent studies our attention span is getting shorter all the time.
We are all familiar with the slogan from Nokia, Connecting people, and it isn’t far from the truth – we are all connected to the internet. But are we connected to each other? Or are we just connected to the same influencers and celebrities, some of whom would rather not follow any one at all? And isn’t it interesting that while we are so connected and always reachable that according to research, depression and anxiety are on the rise, especially amongst young people? Whether this development is connected to the technological changes of our times and the changes in how we communicate, I cannot say. It is however interesting to note that the British government has now established a Ministry of Loneliness in order to push back against the rising numbers of people who suffer from loneliness.
There will not be a single and simple solution when it comes to addressing the changes the past few years have brought us. Governments need to focus on the role that our foundations for society play, both to be able to seize opportunities as well as pushing back against the unwanted effects.
We need to ensure that reliable media outlets, that base their reportings on facts and the truth, can operate in a stable environment – this has never been as important as now.
Our education system also plays a great role today. We must foster ambitious STEM education We must ensure a practical education in STEM/IT/technology and programming while not forgetting that the key factors in all education continue to be critical thinking and democratic participation. To avoid the digital divide we need our education systems to allow people to enhance their skills and learn new ones in order to use latest technology to improve their job opportunities.
We have a clear vision on how to meet the challenges of digitalization in Iceland. We are focused on how to make use the technology to improve and develop the Nordic model of welfare and labour market, quality of life, creating sustainable growth and job opportunities. We are emphasizing how to use this new technology to help us reach the sustainable development goals, to create cleaner and greener solutions for the environment; and to improve healthcare. A strong education system and increased emphasis on research and innovation is what will help us get there. We must never forget that technology and digitalization are tools that can be helpful to strengthen democracy, equality and sustainability – as long as we have a clear vision that technology is here to serve the people.