Digital Tech Is Good, Right? Who Forgot To Tell The Public?

Last week Keith Weed, Unilever's chief marketer, made us all stop and think for a moment. Are we on the right track? Is there a so-called "techlash" brewing? Is social fabulous, or a breeding ground for terror? Are my kids safe on Facebook? Or is it making them sad and failing to protecting them?

It was interesting, then, to check out a major piece of work from Dentsu Aegis that looks at the public's reaction to digital technology across the globe. Its Digital Society Index ranks countries according to how digitally dynamic their economies are, how inclusive digital technology is in each region and whether it is trusted by its citizens.

Surprisingly for us Brits, who are always great at talking ourselves down, the UK comes out in first place with the USA and China in the second and third spot. Germany and France then complete the top five. 

However, Dentsu is keen to point out that no country gets all three criteria spot on -- an economy driving growth through digital innovation may not always be the most inclusive, and perhaps its citizens do not trust digital technology. 

Thus, it's actually worthwhile doing that most British of things and unpicking our success to point out a couple of worrisome factors, although we're top of the list. 

One cause for concern is that inclusivity is not so good in the UK. In fact, there is the biggest gender gap in the world between men and women who are digitally engaged -- 45% versus 36%.

Trust is also down on the global average. Just 18% of Brits believe that digital will create jobs, and only just over a third believe tech will help society meet the challenges it faces. Less than half of Britons think tech will help our country be more egalitarian, and to the contrary, more than half believe that not enough is being done to spread the benefits of digital throughout society.

These are fairly typical findings across the developed world. If you check out the report, you'll see that China drags the global averages up with its euphoric trust in technology and its widespread belief that digital technology will provide a strong economy with great jobs. It's easy to see why this would be the case, but the high scores from China tend to hide a less welcoming response from the rest of the world.

Digital evangelists can talk up the impact the latest tech is having on us all, but is you ever need a report to show there is some caution out there, this is probably the one. Less that one in five Brits believe digital technology is good for jobs, and only just over one in five think companies can be trusted with their data.

It's easy to forget there were two parts to Keith Weed's statement on the ground over which the FMCG giant would boycott the big social networks. One was combating extremism and being a safe place to advertise, and the second was being a safe, protective environment for children.

As ever, I think Keith Weed has tapped into a common feeling of apprehension among consumers, and this report from Dentsu would appear to back up the fact that we should always challenge our assumptions that the public loves digital technology as much as the people who write about it or earn their living through it. 

There is widespread concern out there over jobs, inclusivity and fairness. The UK leads on the good side of digital, and is a top player too for fears about the downside.

We shouldn't take for granted that everyone has a smile on their face about digital because we forget that not only is that not the case but there is a body of opinion building up that could one day fuel the so-called "techlash."

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