Why is the digital divide a problem

The digital divide - a problem?

Digital media divide the world: into those who have access to them and those who do not have or only have limited access to technologies such as information. Those who are materially better are usually also richer in information (information rich), and those who are poor become poorer in many ways (information poor). However, digital media also divide generations into so-called digital natives and digital immigrants.

Digital natives are people who were born into the digital age after 1980, sometimes they are also referred to as "Generation @", "Generation Y", "Millennials", "Net Generation" or "Net Kids". Digital immigrants are people who were born before the massive spread of digital media and who, as immigrants into the new world of media, first had to acquire it. For Austria, the Austrian Internet Monitor shows for the second quarter of 2018 that regular internet use among 20 to 29-year-olds is already 100 percent, while that of over 70-year-olds is "only" around 39 percent - and therefore also a digital divide is near for our country.

Regardless of the fact that - in media and communication studies, for example - it is controversial whether the classification into the two generations can actually be made so clearly, current studies attribute certain characterizing attitudes and behaviors to digital natives, such as more intensive media use and a higher affinity for technology , new learning strategies in the acquisition of knowledge or greater flexibility in everyday work.

Smartphone as the leading medium

In a teaching and research project at the Alpen-Adria-Universit├Ąt Klagenfurt, students observed themselves and others (younger and older people) over the course of a semester and conducted interviews in order to explore differences between the generations. The youngest interviewee was seven, the oldest interviewee was over 70 years old.

Looking at the children and adolescents, it became clear that the smartphone is the central key medium, the PC is primarily used for school purposes, the use of the media is controlled and regulated by the parents, but their prohibitions are often circumvented. For older people, the cell phone is still primarily used to make calls or send text messages, and many are also connected to their children via social media - Whatsapp is an important networking tool for everyone.

Support services for the elderly

The vast majority of younger people consider themselves significantly more adept at dealing with digital media than their parents' generation and report about things they have already taught their parents and that older people would regularly ask them for support. Older people confirm this. Young people often say they don't want to leave their cell phones alone for an hour and tell of the fear and stress that afflict them if they forget it or the battery runs out - older people tend to be more relaxed about it (except when they become inaccessible to children).

In particular, young people use digital media as a permanent filler. The smartphone is pulled out wherever one is alone - in public transport, in a coffee house, at school, at university. Older people often use traditional media such as newspapers or books for this.

While for the younger ones the smartphone is also a message transmitter, advisor, music supplier, camera, clock, alarm clock, appointment calendar and service provider for all kinds of errands, older people prefer to use the phone book or go to the bank. The smartphone provides irreplaceable services as a connecting cord for all generations, especially in long-distance relationships.

Social participation - also in the digital world

Is the digital divide between generations a problem at all? Yes and no. For some, it leads to unfounded worries, for example that it is associated with a massive loss of value. In conversations, however, young people make it clear that manners are still important to them, but that they had to be adapted to the world of media networks. A more serious problem, however, is the question of how those who are less tech-savvy (especially in the adaptation of digital innovations) can remain socially integrated. Social participation has meanwhile also become a question of participation in social networks and digital technologies, be it in the financial sector, in relation to all ordering services or in the healthcare sector.

One can think that the elderly like to go to training courses, acquire senior driving licenses, et cetera. After all, they are to be seen as immigrants who deserve special tuition, but who are also obliged to learn the digital language.

But one can also find that a life in the midst of our society should still be possible to a large extent without the active use of digital media, without suffering serious losses or disadvantages, and that we could work together to bridge the advancing division. (Larissa Krainer, 8/20/2018)

Larissa Krainer teaches and researches at the Alpen-Adria-Universit├Ąt Klagenfurt and is the spokesperson for the Interdisciplinary Media Ethics Center.

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