General users in specific countries

When the European Commission published comparative data on computer and Internet penetration in its member states in 1999, Germany was ranked ninth. The newly elected German government vowed to move Germany to the top and to close the existing digital divides by gender, age and education in the process. In 2003, however, Germany still ranked ninth, with the demographic gaps having become larger. This article presents statistical data on these trends and provides a critical review of the measures taken by the government to narrow these gaps.

According to the model of the "access rainbow", these measures moved beyond improving conditions for access to supporting the development of relevant content and appropriate skills. However, which skills are necessary and how they are to be acquired differs greatly for different underrepresented groups. Focusing on the example of young people at the lowest educational level, the hypothesis is put forward that measures to acquire Internet literacy need to be integrated more fully into the educational system and working conditions. This hypotheses is generalized into a learning curve model suggesting a fourth stage of how social welfare organizations may fight today's digital divides, which are quite different from the situation five years ago. That is why Germany's attempts to bridge its digital divide involved fighting a moving target.

2. Patterns of IT Diffusion in Finland: 1996-2002
Juha Nurmela, Marja-Liisa Viherä
Pages 20-35

This article reviews national sample data on how far and how fast Finland has advanced in its use of information and communications technologies, which Statistics Finland has monitored with large representative surveys since 1996. New technology has become an integral part of most people's everyday life, with the exception of those of retirement age and small households in remote areas.

The results suggest that once people have begun to use the Internet (or mobile phones), their specific uses are quite similar to each other, regardless of whether the user is younger or older, employed, a student, entrepreneur or unemployed. It seems that there is no cause for concern about marginalization from information and communications technologies, at least as a phenomenon separate from other marginalization due to lack of income or low level of education. One question is whether the use of IT is becoming more diversified during this period that has seen the fastest growth and development of the information society. It is questionable to automatically interpret the non-use of certain information or communications media as a sign of marginalization, when it is unclear from what are people being marginalized?

3. Internet Adoption in China's Smaller Cities
Guo Liang, Wang Ning
Pages 36-43

A 2003 survey of 4000 adults aged 17 to 60 examined differences by community size across 12 Chinese cities. In smaller cities, income, education and demand did not pose the major barriers for people to adopt the Internet because of the key roles played by Internet cafe's. But the Internet cafe' itself is not a perfect solution because of problems of teenagers' addiction to online games and chatting, as well as of imbalances by gender.

Generally speaking, Internet adoption in China's small cities is still in its preliminary stage and the potential of using the Internet for information seeking is far from being well developed. Thus, it is predictable that, with the popularization of Internet cafe's, Internet adoption in China's smaller cities will continue to grow. This model could expand to the countryside, where most people also cannot afford a personal computer at home, and have even less education -- but maybe have a greater interest in learning about the outside world. The results demonstrate another way in which the Internet has had unique and unanticipated democratizing effects in China.