CTIT Universiteit Twente
Centre for e-Government Studies

2011-01 Internet Skills, vital assets in an information society

Meer informatie: Alexander van Deursen

Internet skills, vital assets in an information society - Proefschrift

Op 17 December 2010 promoveerde Alexander van Deursen aan de Universiteit Twente met het proefschrift ‘Internet skills, vital assets in an information society.’

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Korte samenvatting:

Internet Skills, vital assets in an information society is about being able to keep up with the digitalization of contemporary society. The dissertation starts with a brief history of communication technologies. It appears that these technologies have changed and have put increasing demands on the people that use them. Moreover, the stakes for not being able to keep up with these technologies have also increased. Special attention is given to the Internet as a contributor to social inequality. Since the impact of the Internet depends on the skills that determine its use, Internet skills are introduced as the main focus. They increasingly determine people’s positions in the labor market and in social life and therefore should now be considered as vital assets in society.

Existing figures and research only serve as a poor estimation of Internet skills levels among populations at large. Current research has many problems with reliability and validity, which causes the actual levels of Internet skills to be largely unknown. There is a need for more in-depth and valid research. Various “Internet skills”-related concepts have been proposed. However, scholars are not consistent in the terms used and definitions applied. In this dissertation, a definition is proposed that includes skills relevant for the general population to function well in an increasingly digital environment. An important aspect is that the proposed skills can be divided into both medium (operational and formal) and content (information and strategic) related Internet skills. People often believe that using the Internet only requires medium-related skills that are automatically learned by younger generations. The proposed definition avoids a technologically deterministic viewpoint by both accounting for technical aspects related to the use of the Internet and substantive aspects related to the content provided by the Internet. The provided concept of Internet skills is of a sequential and conditional nature.

Guided by the definition, the Internet skills level of the Dutch population is measured in a range of three performance tests in which a diverse group of people is asked to complete assignments on the Internet. The primary goal was to indicate the level of operational, formal, information, and strategic Internet skills of the Dutch population. All three studies used a different context for the created assignments: Government, general leisure, and health. The results of the studies were similar: a large number of assignments were not completed successfully and a large part of the Dutch population is struggling to equip itself with the skills needed to fully participate in contemporary society. This especially goes for less educated populations. While these groups have always been socially disadvantaged, they are now increasingly excluded from all the benefits the Internet has to offer. Regarding age, the findings revealed some major implications. In contemporary society, the younger generations are associated with confident use of the Internet. Conversely, the older generations are considered problematic users. The results of the actual performance tests, however, prove different. It appears that higher age only contributes negatively to the level of medium-related Internet skills. Seniors, in particular, show low levels of these skills. However, although young people perform well on the medium-related Internet skills, they still show a strikingly low level of information and strategic Internet skills. In fact, it was shown that age has a direct positive effect on content-related skills, meaning that older people perform better on these skills than young people.

Policy makers and new media developers are forced to adjust their beliefs that, with the exception of some seniors, everybody has access to and can use the Internet. Although It will be difficult to fully equip the entire population with a sufficient level of Internet skills, policy recommendations that might help to overcome Internet skills divides are provided in this dissertation.