Spain still below average, natives still digital

The latest from a European Commission report on Internet use throughout Europe has found that Spain should seek to improve and expand upon the use of new technologies in homes and businesses. Less than half of Spaniards make use of the Internet regularly, and those who use it daily represent little more than a third of the population. Therefore, Spain falls at the tail end of Europe, ranking 20th out of 27. Only Romanians, Bulgarians, Greeks and Cypriots make use of the internet less on a daily basis.

According to the document, DSL (high-speed internet) coverage in Spain has increased since 2004 when the studies began, but the penetration rate of broadband remains below the European average. By contrast, Spain occupies the 10th position of 27 when it comes to downloading music and movies over the internet, which was done by 31% of the population during 2008. [My translation. Source (en catalĂ  - in Catalan)]

With regard to Europe as a whole, 'the report published today outlines the results of five years of EU policy under the Barroso Commission promoting the latest communication technologies, new networks and services and creative media content. By 2008, 56% of Europeans had become regular internet users, a leap of one third since 2004. Half of households and more than 80% of businesses now have a broadband connection. A new generation of Europeans mastering the web and ready to apply its innovations is coming on stage. These "digital natives" hold great potential for Europe's growth.

'People aged 16 to 24 are the most active internet users: 73% of them regularly use advanced services to create and share online content, twice the EU population average (35%). 66% of all Europeans under 24 use the internet every day, compared to the EU average of 43%. They also have more advanced internet skills than the rest of the population, according to a Commission study on digital literacy.

'Although the "digital generation" seems reluctant to pay to download or view online content like videos or music (33% say that they are not willing to pay anything at all, which is twice the EU average), in reality twice as many of them have paid for these services compared to the rest of the population (10% of young users, compared to an EU average of 5%). They are also more willing to pay for offers of better service and quality.' [source]

What is not surprising in this report is that young people are most likely to connect to the internet and make use of its services to create and share content. With regard to Spain, however, few commentators have noted some more intriguing figures. For instance, while it is ranked 14th of 27 for household broadband, Spain comes in second place in Europe for business connections, or fixed-line broadband at work. This reflects my experience in Catalonia with regard to larger companies, but not smaller boutiques, perhaps reflecting the much-maligned shift towards the former at the expense of the latter. I also did not expect to learn that Spain and Germany are ranked together (9/27) in terms of their rural broadband coverage rates. I'll be exploring the urban-rural access divide in Catalonia further in my doctoral thesis (more details in the future).

Furthermore, the term "digital natives" is found in this report and in other contexts with increasing frequency. I have some problems with this term, as it is often used hand in hand with assumptions about age and de facto computing fluency. Young people today are more likely to be exposed to new technologies, especially computers and mobile phones, and thus develop practical abilities accordingly. However, it is worth noting that those who download music to fill up their iPods, flick through touchscreen mobile phones and media players with ease, and spend hours on Facebook each day, may have very few other interests or technical abilities outside of these specific "lifestyle" activities. In short, I would argue that the "digital native generation" is not as homogeneous as it may seem, and that age is only one defining feature of a so-called "digital native". Moreover, it is not a new phenomenon: there have been digital natives among us for decades.


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