Figure One

Science. Communication. Community.

Do You Remember Your First Online Moment? For Some, That Moment Is Today

Though members of the Millennial generation have a reputation for tech obsessions, a new study says that young people who grew up with computer technology are in the minority, worldwide.

by Jessica Stoller-Conrad

By the end of this year, the ITU report estimates that 40 percent of the world will be online. (Image credit: EyeonEarth/Flickr

By the end of this year, the ITU report estimates that 40 percent of the world will be online. (Image credit: EyeonEarth via Flickr

As a Millennial, I’ve heard a number of stereotypes about my generation–many reflecting our expectations of privilege and complete dependence on the latest technologies. Though I usually try to ignore these sweeping generalizations, even I must admit that the internet seems to be our generation’s default source of information.

But according to the International Telecommunication Union’s “Measuring the Information Society 2013 report of internet usage among young people worldwide, this trend isn’t as ubiquitous as many had imagined. In fact, in a global context, digital natives–those who were born around the same time as the personal computer, and have, therefore, spent a lifetime connected to technology–are a minority of today’s youth. The study estimates that worldwide, only 30 percent of 15-24 year olds can be identified as digital natives.

As one would expect, in developed, affluent nations, the study reports that digital natives make up the majority of the 15-24 age group. Up to 99.5 percent of the young people in Japan, Finland, Denmark, and the Netherlands grew up connected to technology, and tech-savvy youngsters in America account for nearly 96 percent of this age group. On the other end of the spectrum, digital natives made up fewer than one percent of the young population in Sierra Leone, Myanmar, and Timor-Lest.

However, a more important comparison is the ratio of each country’s digital natives to their total population, says Michael Best, professor of computing at Georgia Tech and an author on the report. “A country’s future will be defined by today’s young people and by technology. Countries with a high proportion of young people who are already online are positioned to define and lead the digital age of tomorrow,” Best said in a press release earlier this week.

By this definition, the report indicates that countries like Bolivia, El Salvador, Djibouti, and even Myanmar–which ranked near the bottom for the percentage of digital natives among total young people–are all well positioned for a future of digital growth. While digital natives make up more than 20 percent of the total populations of these nations, their tech-connected young American peers account for fewer than 14 percent of the total US population.

In its predictions of the digital future, the report says that growth will depend largely on the already plunging costs of technology, while war and conflict are significant barriers to the building and maintenance of technology infrastructure. However, the report doesn’t seem to factor in the effects of low life expectancies in some developing nations or the global increase in aging populations–both of which could have an impact on the growth of the next generation of digital natives.

Despite these issues, the outlook of the report is mostly positive: As a result, in the next five years, the number of digital natives in developing nations is expected to double–and the report links these higher numbers to another promising trend: an increasing enrollment in secondary and tertiary education.

In retrospect it was a life-changing moment, but I honestly can’t remember the first time I launched a web browser or sent an email–and having grown up with technology as a “stereotypical Millennial,” I find it difficult to even imagine what my life would be like without the internet.

While I know that the connectivity isn’t all roses and rainbows (ugh, comment trolls, identity theft, and spam), it’s incredible to think that as I’m writing this sentence, thousands of people across the globe could be experiencing their first online moment right now.

And if you just happened to stop by Figure One on your maiden voyage, let me be the first to say hello and welcome!

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This entry was posted on October 11, 2013 by in Research, Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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