It might seem to any parent of a teenager or ‘tweenie’ that computers and the internet are a ubiquitous part of modern living, drawing attention away from food, drink, verbal communications and basic human contact. But it is not actually a global phenomenon. The ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ spell that the web has woven only affects a third of the planet’s youngsters.
A recent study from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) shows that around 30% of people aged 15 to 24 have been actively using the internet for the last five years.
The study aimed to measure the number of what has been coined “digital natives” within a country. Digital natives refers to young people born around the time the personal computer was introduced, and who have spent their lives surrounded by technology. Members of this group are also sometimes known as Generation Y or Millennials. There are no precise dates for the grouping, but some use beginning birth dates from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.
According to the research, released as part of the ITU’s Measuring the Information Society 2013 report, South Korea is the surprise leader in this trend, with 99.6% of young people actively engaged with the internet.
In fact, the East Asia region seems to excel in this category, with Japan registering a score of 99.5%. Somewhat surprisingly, the USA – home of Silicon Valley, Microsoft and Apple – comes in behind several European countries, including Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands, at 96%.
An alternate way to measure how computer savvy a nation proves to be is by considering the number of digital natives in relation to the country’s total population.
Georgia Tech Associate’s Professor Michael Best thinks this is the most important figure to measure because “a country’s future will be defined by today’s young people and by technology”.
Co-leader of the study Prof Best, who jointly with ITU developed the model that calculated the worldwide figures, said: “Countries with a high proportion of young people who are already online are positioned to define and lead the digital age of tomorrow.”
Using this measure, Iceland tops the list at 13.9%. Indeed, the top half of the list is filled, as you would expect, with affluent nations – such countries tend to have high levels of overall internet penetration.
Yet once again, an Asian country scores a high fourth place with Malaysia. This middle-income nation, which has a strong history of investing in educational technology, comes in at 13.4%. The United States is placed sixth, with 13.1%.
But there has to be someone at the bottom, and in both measures it was found to be Timor-Leste (East Timor). The Asian island has less than 1% of digital natives. Other countries that have suffered through conflict or very low internet availability join East Timor in the bottom 10, all from Africa or Asia. However, there is a ray of light in the murky gloom of the internet black spots, as the report predicts that the digital native population in these regions will more than double by 2017.
Hamadoun Touré, ITU secretary-general, said: “Youth are transforming our world through the power of information and communication technologies.”
“The Youth Declaration developed at ITU’s BYND2015 Youth Summit in Costa Rica and presented to the UN General Assembly last week by Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla calls for more measurable targets to monitor the digital empowerment of young people at national, regional and international levels.”
“This first attempt to measure the number of digital natives around the world is a valuable first contribution to this effort.”