Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Digital age can empower and stifle

Northern Ireland has certainly embraced the digital age
Northern Ireland has certainly embraced the digital age

Northern Ireland has certainly embraced the digital age, with ownership of computer tablets and smartphones here among the highest in the UK.

We also spend nearly as much time on the phone, watching TV or listening to the radio as we do sleeping.

This means we have a large population who are very comfortable with all kinds of new technology and that interest must be encouraged.

That provides a backdrop which can be exploited educationally and in the world of business.

Our schools and universities must continue to offer courses tailored to the digital industries where an educated workforce can obtain high value employment.

Already, several technology companies which were started by local entrepreneurs have shown themselves to be world leaders in their niche markets and this is the type of development which is required in the rebalancing of the economy.

As well, overseas investors have also seen the worth of our young technologically-savvy people and have set up development centres here. That is a testament to the local workforce, but it can be further developed to create an even more vibrant digital sector.

Even within Northern Ireland, we have the market for new products and services, but our ambition must be greater, to create an industry which can display our expertise to the world.

But ultimately, all these digital devices are just aids to our everyday existence.

The amount of time we spend on them and how we use them is worrying to an extent. We don't want to have a generation of young people growing up who are constantly glued to their smartphones or tablets and lacking in social skills.

Neither should we lose the desire to read a book – even on an e-reader – or to just look around us and marvel at the wonders of the natural world.

The internet may contain all the answers to our queries, but only if we have the inquisitiveness to ask the right questions in the first place.

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