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How Germany is spending too much time talking about digitalisation

How Germany is spending too much time talking about digitalisation

In Germany, the debate about the digital revolution is dominated by self-incrimination – where courage for the future is called for.

We’ve screwed up. We can’t get it right. It’s terrible. Three sentences, one verdict: digitisation doesn’t work in this country. After years of telling the story that Germany slept through digitalisation [1], since the coronavirus pandemic, the German digital debate has been dominated by self-accusation: “Nah, we can’t do internet here. Hihi.”

The snide remarks are always meant to be a little ironic, but hardly reach humorous scope. The bad joke about digitalisation has a very big, unfunny side: it functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy – and above all, as an excuse for why you can’t get active yourself right now.

There hardly seems to be anything more unpleasant in Germany than publicly formulating an optimistic vision of the future. Anyone who thinks like that immediately makes himself vulnerable. How stupid do you have to be to paint the picture of a digital school? Ever heard of data protection?

It is much more comfortable to sit back comfortably and profess the theoretical will to change, which, however, is just annoyingly blocked by the practical inability of the country. “We would if the conditions were right” is the inconsequential agreement cast in letters. Nothing prevents change more than the desire for optimal conditions. Those who claim these conditions have simply not looked closely enough, otherwise, they would have noticed that they are not quite optimal after all. Let’s have a closer look.

That is why people in this country like to look for the perfect solution. “At our school (please insert group, company, authority, etc.), nothing has happened in terms of digitalisation for so long. If we start now, it has to be right. A master plan is needed, which everyone will then talk up until they all agree: we can’t do digitalisation!”

But maybe things are a little different. Maybe we simply don’t want digitalisation, at least not enough. The fact that South Korea is considered a pioneering country for the internet is not only due to the fact that they decided in favour of fibre optics when private television was introduced in this country.[2] It is also because a comparatively young society there was interested in design. In rather older societies, on the other hand, the focus is on worry. “Have you considered all eventualities?” we ask when someone tries something new – as if the status quo is good simply because it existed yesterday.

But what is the status quo when it comes to digitalisation?

The “bidt-Digitalbarometer” shows how much more sensible it is to ask this question instead of lapsing into self-accusation. Based on self-assessment questions, it provides a realistic picture with regard to the questions: Where are we doing well, and where can we improve? As of this week, by the way, it is also available in international comparison. Anyone who takes a detailed look at this survey will realise that the talk about Germany not being a digital powerhouse is wrong. Not everything is perfect, but there are learning curves – and if we actively follow them, perhaps even reason for courage for the future. It is not easy to motivate ourselves to do this over and over again. But in the long run, the continuous badmouthing of German digital competence is also quite exhausting. Perhaps we should use the energy to improve our own digital competence instead.

The blog posts published by bidt reflect the views of the authors; they do not reflect the position of the institute as a whole.