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Digital Life is Life Itself: a new way to view the digital world

By José María Álvarez-Pallete López, Executive Chairman, Telefónica S.A.

Digital life is life itself, and technology has now become an essential part of being what it means to be human. More people in the world have access to a smartphone than they do running water, which is a phenomenal reality. Regardless of whether or not you own a device yourself, mobile technology has become all-pervasive. Digitisation fuels global healthcare services and research facilities, powers utility infrastructure, supports education systems, revolutionises how we run businesses and, at a more intrinsic level, enables the human race to communicate across borders.

The enormous benefit technology has brought to the world in such a short space of time is incredible. Never before have we seen such progress unilaterally sweep the world and affect such change. That is why the possibilities of technology should be open to everyone – something Telefónica has been championing globally for many years. It is our aim to help break down the barriers to adoption and empower people to grasp the opportunity and enrich their lives with digital technology in a safe, responsible and transparent way.

There is also a more fundamental economic impact achieved from digital technology that we simply cannot ignore. The application of digital technology now contributes as much as 10% to total GDP in the world’s more digitally developed countries. This is proof of the enormous power and potential of the digital revolution we are living in. Needless to say, this contribution is projected to rise significantly over the next few years, across all corners of the globe.  However, to ensure that opportunity is fully exploited for the benefit of world economies and the lives of global citizens, it is our firm view that governments, economists, policy makers and those involved in the development of digital innovation, need a more sophisticated indicator of the relative success of the digital economy. Without this, there is no goalpost at which we can all aim and no clear guidance on where we should be prioritising investment.

Given our own contribution to the global digital economy – and indeed our passion – Telefónica has recently supported the development of the most comprehensive global index on digital life ever developed. Created by world leading scholars from London’s Imperial Business School, George Mason University and the University of Pécs, the Index aims to paint a holistic picture of digital life across the world. Based on large amounts of public data from multiple sources, the Index formula presents the basis on which any digital economy in the world can be assessed.  And as such, we have been able to rank 34 countries worldwide on the strength of their digital life relative to GDP per capita.

The sheer depth of insight delivered by the Index has been both encouraging and exciting. Rather than simply measuring access to technology, for the very first time, this Index takes into account the harmonization of different digital socio-economic factors that drive a digital economy. These fall under three categories –openness, confidence and entrepreneurship. It is only when looking at these three factors, and the raft of data to inform them, that we can begin to understand where strengths and bottlenecks exist in each region.

The openness of operating systems, digital skills, confidence, laws, and the ability to innovate, all contribute to the value of digital life and, in turn, the strength of a digital economy. The Index has highlighted that while the US and European countries display great strength in many areas, Latin American countries rank particularly highly for entrepreneurship. In fact, Colombia and Chile fall in the top eight performing countries relative to GDP per capita, outperforming those countries perceived to be more digitally developed.

We have worked to unearth clear and constructive policy recommendations for each country indexed, in order for them to be bettered informed as to where to prioritise investment and digital development.

Telefónica’s role in the digital ecosystem is to enable people to choose and explore a world of unlimited possibilities. We do so with integrity, commitment and confidence, upholding clear ethical and sustainable principles. To unleash the full potential of the global digital economy, we need forward-looking, fairer public policies and better cooperation between all stakeholders, both public and private. Our hope is that Telefónica’s Index on Digital Life will contribute to the provision of the critical insight required to help global economies truly capitalize on the massive opportunity offered by digital technology to people everywhere.

We look forward to an on-going conversation on how to improve digital life for everyone because, after all, digital life is life itself.

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