Bridging the digital divide in Malta

  • Awareness
  • 28/01/2019
  • Maltese Safer Internet Centre

The Maltese Safer Internet Centre (SIC) reflects on the importance and risks posed by the digital divide, in particular regarding the daily life of older generations, as well as the activities undertaken to remedy this problem.

Without a doubt, more people today than ever before have embraced digital technology within their lives. To a certain extent, this was inevitable since more and more services are now available online, and in certain cases, only available online.

Nevertheless, there is a percentage of society who still fears the digital world, or at least want to have as little as possible to do with it. This is the digital divide: a segment of the population - even if relatively small - are at a disadvantage because of their lack of knowledge, skills or lack of owning digital devices themselves.

The digital divide can be defined as an economic and social inequality to the access to, use of, or impact of information and communication technologies. The divide may refer to inequalities between individuals, households, businesses, or geographic areas, usually at different socioeconomic levels or other demographic categories within the same country.

The divide may also refer to the comparison between differing countries or regions of the world. This is the global digital divide.

The digital divide encompasses differences in both access (generally known as first-level digital divide) and usage (general known as second-level digital divide) of computers and the internet.

This divide can be between different kinds of users with regard to their political engagement on the internet (known as the democratic divide), the divide between industrialised and developing countries (known as the global divide) or even the divide between various socioeconomic groups within a country (known as the social divide).

The digital divide renders social inequalities more tangible, and even reinforces them. It also aggravates issues related to the persisting information or knowledge gap between, on the one hand, those people with access to and using the new media and those people without access to such digital media.

The statistics indicate that a quarter of Malta's population is over 60. This presents challenges, not just regarding pensions and welfare but also within the communications and technological contexts. Within the older age group, many may not have embraced the use of smartphones, tablets and new services yet. Age itself, however, is not the challenge, since there are a number of old people who use digital media daily.

Fear of the unknown, or of anything new, may constitute a challenge that not everyone is willing to take up, even if this means not benefiting from the advantages offered by ICT and the internet. For some, it might be a walk out of their comfort zone, regardless of the growing presence of technology in daily life.

The numbers of older adults using the internet has increased, but the digital divide between older adults and younger people still exists. Older adults spend less time online than younger adults and use significantly fewer digital applications on a daily basis.

The BeSmartOnline educational and media campaigns are one way to encourage the older generation to start making use of and benefiting from technology, to feel more empowered and have an improved quality of life, while at the same time trying to bridge the digital gap there might be between different generations by providing parents, carers and teachers with the essential tools and strategies they need to protect themselves and their children.

Educational campaigns help reduce the fear of making mistakes, especially with regards to security concerns, since certain individuals may be lacking confidence in their own knowledge of how to use online tools properly, in particular online banking.

Other individuals may put off using online tools because they see them as being arduous and time consuming. Social isolation is another concern. Some older people may be rejecting online shopping as they welcome the social interaction of daily face to face contact with other customers and shop owners when shopping in person.

Without a doubt, social interaction is important and the digital world cannot offer everything. No man is an island, but the digital world and technology should not be seen as an alternative to social contact. Rather, it should be seen as as offering opportunities to live a more comfortable life with additional online contact.

Find out more information about the work of the Maltese Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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