Our Life Shaped by Digital Platforms

, by Nicoletta Corrocher
From interpersonal communication to entertainment, from retailing to the job market, the digital age has transformed all kinds of social interactions, democratizing access to knowledge and increasing consumer variety. However, policymakers need to address abuses of market power, infringements of privacy, and employment downgrading that Big Tech can be responsible for

First and foremost, new technologies have broken down time and geographic barriers to communication, allowing people to interact in real-time across the globe. Innovations such as email, instant messaging apps, and social media, introduced by tech giants such as Meta, Google, Microsoft, and TikTok, have allowed an increasing number of people to easily connect and share content. At the same time, the development of search engines has facilitated access to information and knowledge. While all these phenomena have empowered individuals and led to the emergence of communities of interest, they have also raised increasing concerns about the spread of fake news and misinformation, requiring the development of digital literacy skills to assess the authenticity of online content. At the same time, individuals have found themselves constantly connected and in search of online approval, which has led to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, especially among the younger generations.
The second major area of change for consumers is commerce/shopping. E-commerce has revolutionized the way goods and services are traded around the world, expanding variety and consumer choice, increasing competition, and driving down prices. Consumers can shop from anywhere at any time, a trend that has been fuelled by the proliferation of mobile commerce, which has blurred the line between physical retailing and online presence, making the multichannel strategy particularly profitable for sellers. This revolution has had a significant impact on the relationship between merchants and consumers, as the latter have become more informed, more demanding of personalized experiences, and more willing to engage and share their activities with other users on social networks. Thus, e-commerce has given consumers access to information, the ability to shop on multiple devices, and the ability to share their experiences with others, which has completely changed their expectations and the way they shop. Despite the benefits brought to consumers, the abuse of dominant market position by large e-commerce platforms and the consequent reduction of competition in digital markets require greater oversight from policymakers.

Finally, digital technologies and platforms have radically transformed the world of work. The rise of the gig economy has opened employment opportunities for many individuals who can offer their skills and services online, but it has also raised important challenges about the nature of the employment relationship, which has shifted from the traditional full-time, secure job contract to an economy of free contractors performing contingent, part-time, and temporary work, typically with lesser health, disability, or pension benefits. Moreover, remote working and flexible work arrangements encouraged by the pandemic, have since become a reality in many contexts, made possible by technological advances in relevant platforms. In the future, important challenges will arise from the diffusion of AI and more generally of advanced technologies (big data, robotics, etc.), which are becoming majorly facilitating tools in the working environment, but whose management requires the development of new skills, which could lead to job displacement for many.
Online platforms are proving to be key intermediaries in the flow of information and services, facilitating all types of interaction. Over time, their diffusion and use for manifold purposes – from entertainment to communication, from commerce to travel, from finding a job to making friends – have increased significantly, with benefits spread throughout society. However, this overarching phenomenon has raised significant concerns that are bound to shape future interactions in digital markets. On the one hand, as more information and content are shared online, there is the growing need to balance the convenience of using digital platforms with the protection of personal data. On the other hand, trends towards the concentration of market power in the digital economy, with a few dominant players taking the lead across various industries, could be detrimental to consumer welfare and should be closely monitored by policymakers and market authorities.


Bocconi University
Department of Management and Technology