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Why Intergenerational Fairness Matters



The goal of the conference was to explore an intergenerational perspective on the domain of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). ICT has changed lifestyles, production regimes, public governance and participation but it has also created new forms of “divide”. While solving problems it creates new issues and challenges spanning sustainability and social justice.

Panel sessions focused on two topics: ICT as a possible solution to the generational divide and the other on ICT and generational divide: open issues, challenges and risks. Presentations, debates and discussions asked whether access to ICT should now be seen as a human or ‘generational’ right. The following issues and questions represent the key ideas and presentations from delegates to the conference:

ICT has done wonderful things for economic development and some forms of communication but it has also created problems. We must fix the problems we have created. Maybe our trust in technology to fix what’s not working in today’s society is too strong. Fairness between the generations raises the issue of competition for jobs. It is probable that we have entered a time when a grandfather, father and son could be competing with each other for work. How are we bridging the Digital Divide. Can it help us? Europe needs to deliver new solutions but how to do this? Pre 1925 European companies were innovative. Now they do 10% of what the US is doing and most of the true US innovation comes out of ‘garage’ companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google.

There is intergenerational inequity. Each generation has the right to benefit from natural and social resources as the previous generation enjoyed but now there are issues of debt, caring for an aging population, access to life-long education. What are the links between the generations? Problems cannot be solved by ONE generation. There is an unfair distribution of rights and opportunities; current generations are competing and conflicting. It’s not just the realm of future generations, it’s happening right now across all ages. This is the first time in history that we have been in this position where future generations will be worse off than the previous.

Issues of intergenerational fairness explored during the conference covered families, entrepreneurship, innovation, welfare state, employment, education, energy, intercultural dialogue, poverty. In the past we had different stages of knowledge and control of it: first the church with its fundamentalism, then the state with its conflicts of interest and finally the markets had control but created financial crises.  These days we are losing nature and the environment is not the same. WE are in a new situation. Where is the old curiosity-based science where innovation comes from? These days it’s all about money generation and profit from the get-go. Globally people have LESS rights now than they had before so we must renegotiate this. Governance isn’t working – we now have huge debt and insecurity, anguished hedonism and it’s not fulfilling for people. We know now that MORE is NOT better.

What we need is more participation by citizens, more intergenerational interactions, more curiosity and imagination, more innovation and entrepreneurship and perhaps ICT can help with this. Digital literacy should be a human right to freedom of association and assembly on the internet. People must have access to accurate and comprehensive information. There must be equitable access to higher education. Life-long learning is still not part of the right to education but older adults should have the right to become digitally literate in order to be able to participate in society.

Key issues are employment, skills and poverty. Some delegates felt the State should be legally obliged to ensure digital literacy. There’s also a moral obligation to provide equal opportunities. We must reach all learners because there is a wide societal interest in life-long learning. Adult training courses in Hungary of more than 2490 hours must include a digital learning module in order to receive funding support (Hungary 2009). Therefore public policies and programmes are needed to progress things.

Digital literacy raises issues of lack of resources for many people as they cannot purchase the hardware necessary, such as smart phones, laptops, high-speed boradband. Therefore we must find a way to reduce this ‘gap’ in order to increase social cohesion. In the near future everything around us will involve the internet. Everywhere there will be screens- a new environment for all generations to adjust to.

It’s worth noting that the future doesn’t have relevance for many people. They are thinking short term, maybe their lives are short. Maybe they struggle to provide the basics of life for themselves so for them intergenerational fairness is not ‘on the table’.

A down-side of ICT is that we are so connected these days with gadgets for doing things and communication and being in contact 24/7 – where is the digital peace? Family members aren’t speaking to each other- they are absorbed in connecting elsewhere with gadgets.

Next year is the European Year for Active Aging and solidarity between the generations. We need intergenerational ‘teaching’ going both ways. Institutional changes are needed for a fair society to emerge. There will be an EU-wide event in Brussels on Intergenerational Fairness in the first quarter of 2012. Maybe we’ll see you there.

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