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HOME NRI JOURNAL Digital Social Capital: Towards a New Normal Brought About by the Covid-19 Pandemic


Innovation magazine that generates hints for the future


Digital Social Capital: Towards a New Normal Brought About by the Covid-19 Pandemic

Takeshi Mori, Senior Researcher, Global Industrial Policy & Management Research Department, Center for Strategic Management & Innovation

#Policy recommendations

Aug. 04, 2020

Every year, NRI holds the NRI Dream Up the Future Forum. The theme for 2020 is “Covid-19 and Paradigm Shifts in Economic Society”. NRI’s President and CEO Shingo Konomoto will appear as the keynote speaker. Below, Takeshi Mori, one of the authors of The Digital Wealth of Nations (Dejitaru Kokufuron) (Toyo Keizai), a compilation of research results on what the “near future brought about by digital technology” will look like, introduces matters of note in the speech.

Global use of digital technology accelerated by COVID-19

The keynote speech is made up of several pillars. They are: “the state of the global economy”, “trends in digital technology use around the world against Covid-19”, “changes in consumer values following the spread of Covid-19”, “corporate measures following the spread of Covid-19”, and “investment in digital social capital to respond to the new normal after Covid-19”.
At present, in order to gain an understanding of changes in people’s information-gathering behavior and work style and consumption behavior following the spread of Covid-19 and changes in values that occurred in the wake of the pandemic, NRI is implementing a large-scale questionnaire survey in eight countries around the world. In the keynote speech, we will introduce the results of the survey and the state of digital technology use in each country while examining, from the perspective of investment in digital social capital, changes that corporations and society will need to make in response to people’s changing values and behavior.

Global-scale changes in consumer mindset and ramifications for corporations and society

The spread of Covid-19 has had a major effect on people’s behavior. As people were required to refrain from going out, the ratio of e-commerce in purchasing activities grew, and school classes, presentations, seminars, and the like also shifted online. Even people who previously hesitated to use the internet no longer had a choice but to do so, and it appears that many people realized how convenient the internet is as a result. According to questionnaire surveys carried out by NRI in Japan in March and May, hours of internet use spiked among all age ranges during the stay-at-home period.
Our work styles experienced a particularly significant change. Many jobs shifted to center on telework, resulting in major changes to people’s lifestyles. Even people who never would have considered telework otherwise were essentially “forced” to shift to the new work style.
Under these conditions, people’s values with respect to their jobs and workplaces are undergoing a major change. We believe that quite a number of people do not want to return to the lives they had before Covid-19, and corporations too must build new values and work environments. With these changes in people’s work styles and lifestyles as a focus point, we must think about what ramifications these will have on corporate workings, the state of nations, urban planning, and the like.

Online strategy for survival

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, accommodations, restaurants, events, travel-related transportation, and other industries that involve the “three Cs” have overall suffered a major blow, but there are differences in impact even within the same industry.
For example, in the case of retail, companies that only sold out of their brick-and-mortar stores are suffering, while those with substantial online channels seem to have been able to keep the damage to a relatively low level. In the case of online shops, Amazon was previously considered to be the only winner, but it appears that access to direct-sales websites of retailers and manufacturers is also on the rise. Going forward, we expect that having a substantial presence both in real stores (analog) and online (digital) will be a requirement for retailers to succeed.
Regarding education, although online classes don’t provide the same sense of actually being present, some people say that they like being able to take classes from teachers all over the world without ever leaving their homes, showing that people’s mindsets are changing as though being led by their behavior.

Investment in digital social capital to respond to the new normal

The main theme of the forum, digital social capital, will serve as a foundation for all citizens to be able to enjoy smooth service that never existed before by linking the achievements of individual investments in digital technology by corporations, government agencies, hospitals, educational institutions, and the like, and sharing these investments among all of society.
This involves several elements. The first is networks and infrastructure/hardware such as smartphones and tablets. The second is software serving as a platform for operating various services on that hardware. The third is the digital skills of the populace. And the fourth is data management. The biggest challenge in investing in digital social capital is likely to be the last one, the handling of data.
For example, imagine a patient receiving medical care; if the content of the records at the hospital(s) where the patient previously received care is managed in an integrated manner on a network, even if the patient is seen by a different doctor at a different location while on a workation or the like, the doctor will be able to smoothly perform appropriate medical care by accessing the patient’s data. On the other hand, many people might reject the idea of having all information about their individual bodies available for access on the internet. There are various efforts in progress around the world concerning how to manage this kind of personal information as these hardware and platforms are being built. Using examples like Estonia, which is known as an e-state where the entire country has gone digital, as a reference, we will examine problems involved in tradeoffs such as the convenience and limits of digital technology, personal data use and privacy protection, and individual liberty and social control.

At present, various experiments in digitalization are ongoing around the world. Some countries are rapidly moving forward with construction of digital social capital at the expense of privacy, while others are searching for a path toward digitalization while giving priority to the protection of personal data. Perhaps there is a unique path for Japan that doesn’t need to be one of these two extremes. We hope to seek an action plan to respond to the new normal that is unique to Japan while referring to the results of our survey of people around the world.

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