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Why has digital not figured more strongly in #brexit versus #bremain?

Jonathan Briggs, Founder and Academic Director, Hyper Island | June 23, 2016
Hyper Island's Jonathan Briggs contends that the issues being voted on are being viewed from a very myopic point of view, not taking into account that the world is already changing far beyond anyone’s control due to the forces being unleased by the change brought about by digital transformation.

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

As the UK decides whether to stay in or leave the European Union, I have been surprised that the role of digital in our lives has not figured more highly in the debate.  Instead we have largely digitally clueless men (and mainly rather similar men) on both sides advocating the status quo (remain) or returning to the past (leave).

Neither of these are the reality of my world or I suspect for the majority of UK people.  Their jobs, lives, needs and wants are all being transformed by digital and those forces will not go away whatever the outcome.  Having said that, the fantasy of "taking back control" in a world where we have all surrendered power to Facebook, Google, Amazon and others seems to be ring particularly hollow. In case you're wondering, I've already cast my vote to remain (note: Jonathan is a UK citizen).

I'm an optimist when it comes to the future benefits of an increasingly digital and globalised world.  Healthcare, transportation, education and communication are all being improved along with the lives of billions of people.  Spend time in China or India and signs of a rising, confident middle class powered by smartphones and access to information are clear.

Clearly this raising of all boats brings with it significant challenges from dwindling resources and climate change to immigration and cultural pressures but this is a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle.  We simply can't close the doors and huddle together in the hope that we can turn the clock back to the 1950s.

Instead we need to raise our sights to the opportunities and help design diverse local and global solutions to these challenges that harness digital, are culturally sensitive and take into account the genuine fears of those around us.

We need to explore ways of giving people a genuine voice that is stronger than the echo chambers of Twitter or Facebook. This starts with expecting participation rather than observation and helplessness. We will need to legislate minimum wages and employee protection while recognising changing patterns of work and global collaboration. This can of course only happen in big blocks of countries and alliances which is why leaving the EU would be so stupid.

If I had a magic wand I'd want to encourage genuine transparency in markets so that our buying and voting choices can be informed by visibility of labour practices, human rights and environmental data rather than simply price.

We must find ways to bring value back from the rich and powerful individuals and companies who have benefited disproportionately (and hoarded cash) from the last twenty years. This will not be simple or painless but is essential if others are to see their lives improve.


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