“Without digital technology, the idea of a global democracy is unimaginable”
Digital technology is profoundly changing the world around us: from our economic model to our way of life, and our consumer society to politics. It’s also a great tool for increasing the number of participants in public decision-making, better informing citizens and co-building public policies. It’s also behind the emergence of new platforms that aim to reinvent democracy and build a more balanced planet.
Interview with Jacques Attali, President of the Positive Planet Foundation and founder of the large global citizen consultancy: the General Assembly for Future Generations, Up for the Planet , which Orange partners.
What role can digital play in the development of an open and participatory democracy, and more broadly, global citizenship?
Jacques Attali: The digital world plays a crucial role, because it allows us to stay informed and receive the opinions of millions of people at almost zero cost. The General Assembly for Future Generations is a perfect example because people from all over the world can contribute in a free and voluntary way. Digital technology is therefore an essential tool and without it, the very idea of global democracy would be unimaginable.
Immediate, continuous information … digital has changed our relationship with time. Is this compatible with taking into account the needs of future generations?
J. A.: We must be aware that digital can be harmful and has disadvantages. By making ‘always on’ communication possible, it can push policymakers to make decisions every day or minute. Transparency creates an obligation to respond immediately, resulting in a permanent change of opinions. However, the tyranny of the here and now doesn’t allow us to carry out sustainable actions: we’re forced into satisfying immediate needs and not investing in future generations. Democracy is built over a long time. That’s why it’s imperative that digital is regulated, and rules and procedures are established to ensure democracy is upheld.
Holding international roundtables such as the General Assembly for Future Generations, Up for the Planet, is made possible thanks to digital. Therefore, how can the development of networks and digital tools contribute to preserving the environment, building a sustainable economy for future generations, and improving living conditions for all?
J. A.: Digital can be extremely valuable in each of these areas. There are many examples. In terms of the environment, it creates favourable conditions for reducing energy consumption by replacing travelling with digital communications.
Digital is also a great way to save raw materials and increase efficiency!Jacques Attali, President of the Positive Planet Foundation
In the education sector, digital reduces the investment burden by making it possible to deliver the best methods of education across the world at low cost.
It has a great role to play in business creation too. Positive Planet International is partnering with Orange to develop e-commerce programmes where we help the most vulnerable people to use technology to create their business. We realise it’s an exceptional tool in the fight against poverty.
There have been similar initiatives to the General Assembly in the past, which have not succeeded in getting their recommendations adopted into society. In your opinion how will this be more successful?
J. A.: The more participants there are, the more impact we will have on decision makers. It will depend on the number of people we can engage. But civil society, when it speaks with one voice, does manage to get that voice heard. Having been involved in the G7, I can see that that the decisions taken there are increasingly taking future generations into account, in particular on environmental issues.
The General Assembly for Future Generations: propose your ideas to the G20 decision makers on upfortheplanet.orgUntil 28 February you can share your ideas, debate or vote for proposals to improve the planet, economy or living conditions for all on upfortheplanet.org. This large online, global and open consultation will select the 20 most popular proposals for development by three groups of experts before being put in front of G20 leaders in Autumn 2018.
In a world that’s evolving at different rates, can technology be a means to reducing inequality?
J. A.: By definition, new technology benefits the wealthiest first. However, we realise that digital development has enabled people who have never had a landline to have Internet access as quickly as more developed countries. There are some positive leaps towards the future, not forgetting the fact it greatly promotes social mobility.
However, the development of networks and digital tools is subject to the demands of efficiency and profitability. How can you reconcile this with a vision of a positive economy promoted by the Positive Planet Foundation?
J. A.: It’s all about the inclusion of future generations in the decision criteria. To encourage this, there are a whole series of initiatives being developed such as the ‘positivity index’ in businesses, which measures the interests of future generations in a company’s decision making. The publication of this index in a few months will, I hope, encourage investors to look at positive companies first. It will also push companies to become more positive. You could even go further by encouraging changes to boards of directors, opening up a space for someone to speak on behalf of future generations.
What do you think global citizenship will look like in 2050?
J. A.: I think that every citizen on the planet will have a passport that will give him his rights and responsibilities. Everyone will know their rights as defined in the universal declaration of human rights or the conventions of the international labour organisation. Such a passport could be created right now. In 2050 it will be a reality!
Our commitmentAt Orange, we strive to foster initiatives to build a connected planet that is more efficient, more responsible and more conducive to socio-economic development. As a network operator we are committed to improving people’s daily lives through the digital experiences we provide in 29 countries and our relationships with public authorities and institutions. That’s why we’re participating in the General Assembly for Future Generations through our partnership formed with the Positive Economy Forum in Le Havre in 2017. The proposals made on the Digital Society Forum website have been included in the Up for the Planet platform, and three experts from Orange will take part in the working groups.