The Role of New Digital Technologies in a Time of Crisis

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2021-65-6-95-106
T. Rovinskaya (,
Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation

Received 26.01.2021.

Acknowledgements. The article was prepared within the project “Post-Crisis World Order: Challenges and Technologies, Competition and Cooperation” supported by the grant from Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation program for research projects in priority areas of scientific and technological development (Agreement 075-15-2020-783).

Abstract. The article investigates the role of new digital technologies during a crisis period on the example of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Considering the methods used by different states to prevent the spread of the virus and its consequences, the author analyzes the advantages of the impelled rapid digitalization, scrutinizes its negative aspects, and discusses perspectives. Although the digital transformation had already been taking place before the pandemic actually started (2019), the current crisis facilitates the unprecedented digitalization breakthrough in all life spheres, which will have delayed consequences. The short-run effects are already obvious: deepening of virtual communication; advancement of electronic document flow systems and online-services (including E-Government, public health service, etc.); virtualization of education, culture, sports, leisure activities; transformation of labour market towards distance employment, an outburst of electronic commerce and services, robot automation in economy; virtualization of political life (online-meetings, online-debates, online-summits, etc.), and, moreover, a transfer of power struggle and geopolitical struggle itself to digital platforms. Greater convenience and effectiveness are the most vivid advantages of digital technologies development, which plays the key role in crisis periods. Better access of disabled persons and people living in geographically remote places to medical aid, education, cultural objects, etc. also belongs to important achievements of the rapid digitalization. At the same time, there are significant negative aspects of this process, both general and specific. The violation of democratic rights and freedoms (primarily, of personal data security and individual privacy) is unavoidable in the light of the necessary “digital control” from the state to contain the spread of infection. Private IT companies participating in the process of the virus spread control due to their products (mobile applications, Internet platforms, etc.) also benefit from access to personal data. Whereas this issue is not central in authoritarian regimes like China, it becomes very challenging for democratic societies of the West. The digitalization of services gives wide room for irregularities and fraud in general. A growing “digital exclusion” is another concern: the greater dependency on technical means excludes certain parts of the population unable to use them for different reasons. An increasing individualization and solitude amid the lacking real-life communication gives rise to complicated psychological issues and mental disorders. Among specific negative side-effects of digitalization there are obstacles in personal electronic verification, worsening in the quality of remote medical assistance and online-education, unemployment growth and smashup of offline-businesses in economy, and some other. The most complicated question of the current crisis and the next “post-COVID” period is how serious the above-mentioned negative consequences of the rapid digitalization will be, to what extent they may devaluate its advantages, what sacrifice will be made by humanity to pay for comfort and effectiveness.

Keywords: digitalization, virtualization, information technologies, pandemic, COVID-19, lockdown, E-Government, government services, digital control, conspiracy theory


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For citation:
Rovinskaya T. The Role of New Digital Technologies in a Time of Crisis. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2021, vol. 65, no. 6, pp. 95-106.

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