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Digital Quality of Life

While new gadgets like the iPhone and the ever-shrinking iPod still elicit amazement and appreciation among the general public, most do not recognize the true impact that the IT revolution has had and continues to have on our daily lives. In 2007, Rob Atkinson and Andrew McKay documented in the report Digital Prosperity: Understanding the Economic Benefits of the Information Technology Revolution how IT, since the mid-1990s, has been the principal driver of increased economic growth not only in the United States but also in many other nations. However, IT is also at the core of dramatic improvements in the quality of life for individuals around the world. In a new report from ITIF, Digital Quality of Life: Understanding the Personal and Social Benefits of the IT Revolution, Rob Atkinson and I show how IT is the key enabler of many, if not most, of today’s key innovations and improvements in our lives and society, from better education and health care, to a cleaner and more energy-efficient environment, to safer and more secure communities and nations.

With input from experts across multiple disciplines, we compiled a representative, though by no means exhaustive, sampling of the various ways IT is helping to reshape our world. Whether it is from faster processors, more storage or faster networks or the growth of technologies like GPS, RFID or wireless sensors, we are crossing a threshold where IT is making the world come alive with information. Throughout the 17 chapters of the report, we cover a variety of subjects including education, health care, public safety, personal safety, transportation, energy, the environment, accessibility for individuals with disabilities, communities, government and the development world. Over the course of writing this report, we came to at least one clear and convincing conclusion: IT matters…a lot.

In fact how well we solve many, if not most, of todays pressing societal challenges will depend on how effectively we use IT. Whether it is using telematics to implement congestion pricing on roads and highways to improve surface transportation or implementing electronic health records to improve the quality of care and reduce costs in medicine or investing in technologies to foster telework and cut energy use for business travel, IT will be part of the solution. Therefore, it is important for policymakers at all levels of government to implement policies that foster digital transformation. These policies can include anything from good telecommunication policies to ensure that high speed broadband networks are affordable and available to the public to fostering digital literacy in schools and the general population.

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