Nowadays we live and breathe within the internet. Digital technologies such as smartphones and computers are always in reach. Countries and tech companies always push to expand internet access to rural and most isolated areas. Yet, no country has fully prepared for the long-term negative effects of the internet – digital inequalities.
Let’s take a look at Indonesia, a developing country in the Asian region with very rapid growth of internet users. The Indonesian government focuses to boost internet access in the country’s rural areas. But, even with the increasing access, the internet is slowly creating a gap, leaving behind many who do not know how to use and gain benefits from the internet. A situation that we know as the digital divide.
In plain language, the digital divide means unequal access, knowledge, and skills to use the internet and navigate online information. The interesting part is high internet connection does not mean that the users have the necessary digital skills to use it effectively.
Too many cases of highly educated people fall into fraud or scam schemes.
If you are thinking the gap only affects older generations then you should think again. According to Statista.com, the internet is dominated by youth groups between 18 and 34 years old, which consists of 50 percent of online users worldwide. These youths are easily exposed to negative content and misinformation. Even Gen Z is known as the generation to share information without checking it first.
Now, the question is how capable are these youths to use the internet? If we can put their skills to an index number, how high or low will it be?
To answer this question, we actually did some research back in 2020 targeting youths in two major cities in Indonesia.
Digital Divide and Digital Skills
Before we can answer the previous question, first we must understand what kind of skills actually needed on the internet. After careful consideration, we concluded that we actually need 6 types of digital skills to use the internet effectively.
- Information Management, or the ability to search and organize information in a somewhat effective manner. In other words, if you want to make a certain decision, you know what to search for and select the most useful information for you.
- Technical Operation, whether you can operate various devices or have difficulties handling menus or hyperlinks.
- Social, the skill to understand and converse with each other online with mutual respect. Let’s say it this way, if you can use and understand a text full of emojis then you maybe have high social skills.
- Creative, the ability to create content with acceptable quality and publish them on your platform of choice.
- Security, whether you are capable to secure your private data and avoiding all those dangers lurking on the internet.
- Critical Thinking, is the skill to use logical reasoning before making any decisions or judgments on the internet. Usually, this kicks in before you post something unless you’re drunk.
After deciding the set of skills, next we distribute a survey to more than 400 youths in two major cities in Indonesia (Jakarta and Yogyakarta).
Then the results are in.
Youths between 17 and 24 years old showed to have a digital skills index of 4.24 out of 5. A high index but expected since the participants live in two major cities.
However, the most interesting part is if we look further at the number, it showed that female youths have a higher index than males. Apparently, the stereotype that boys are more exposed to online risks is true after all.
One interesting finding is those with lower economic backgrounds are also shown to have lower index numbers than their counterpart. The digital divide gap is real between those who have and have not.
Another question pops up, what about those poor and uneducated people living in the cities – or urban poor? If we want to build a bridge to address the digital divide, then we should consider all walks of life.
What can we do as users?
First, you can improve your digital skills. Then, you can teach your friends and family. At least how to navigate safely on the internet.
Because to build this bridge, we cannot just rely on the government or tech giants alone. We need all hands on deck.
This article is a short version of our research:
M. Angeline, A. Luthfia, Y. Safitri, M. A. Widyakusumastuti, and D. Wibowo, “Towards Digital Equality: Assessing Youths’ Digital Literacy Capabilities,” 2021 International Conference on Information Management and Technology (ICIMTech), 2021, pp. 282-286, DOI: 10.1109/ICIMTech53080.2021.9534938.
Click here if you want to read other research.
A writer | researcher | lecturer who also a tech-addict and internet-junkie