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In the technology world, an idiot’s guide is meant to dispel the intimidation factor inherent in getting to grips with using our digital devices and for taking the fear out of technology. Yet idiot guides are not very necessary when children grow up exposed to a range of technology devices – they appear then to have been born with a technology ‘gene’. And it is this that can increase the possibility of self-education and the basic computer literacy that comes from having connected devices with which to play and learn.

Craig Wilson, the deputy editor of TechCentral, makes the point that when we define digital access as ‘mobile data coverage for 100% of the population, we are aiming far too low’. He asks: ‘Do we really want to rank access from a basic smartphone alongside what’s available using a laptop or desktop with an uncapped fixed-line connection?’ And he goes on to say: ‘It may be possible to start and run a small business from a basic Android smartphone, but there are limitations to what can be achieved with mobile access alone. Africa will continue to find novel ways of getting the most out of mobile, but it’s far from an ideal solution’.

The latest futurefact survey is hot off the presses and absolutely supports Craig’s views. The survey finds that fear of technology decreases with an increase in access to a computer in addition to a cell phone.   When comparing people who have access to the internet via a cell phone but not a computer to those with computer access, the latter are the far more technologically sussed group. For example, 67% of the ‘cell only’ group feel that technology is moving at such a rapid pace they often feel left behind, but this figure drops to 56% for those with a PC. Those with PCs are also far more likely to find online ads very useful (54% to 41%). Interestingly they are also the ones who say they are happy to get ads by email or sms if they can opt out when they want to (62% vs 53%). And they are considerably more active on the online front:  50% vs 35% sometimes click on online ads, 23% vs 13% say they are buying things online more and more and 49% vs 32% usually research an item online before going to a store to buy it. 

Online shopping

This is not to say that access to the internet via mobile is to be sniffed at – both groups (just over 50%) check out what people have posted on social media when choosing products, brands or services.  And both groups (also around 50%) send comments to family and friends about what they are watching on TV via their devices. 

Local digital guru Arthur Goldstuck talks about the “participation curve” — the time it takes from getting online to being sufficiently familiar with, and trusting of, technology to begin shopping online or using cloud-based services, let alone developing applications or online services. He says it’s the last of these that’s the most important and it takes the longest time online to achieve. It seems self evident from futurefact’s findings and from the views of people like Wilson and Goldstuck that if South Africa is to achieve an inclusive economy on a number of levels, it will be essential to find a way to facilitate broadband access across a wider spectrum of South African society so that they can be brought more inclusively into a viable technologically driven economy. 

futurefact has been surveying the attitudes and beliefs of South Africans since 1998. The findings presented above are from futurefact 2014 which is based on a probability sample of 3,048 adults aged 18 years and over, living in communities of more than 500 people throughout South Africa representing 22,8 million adults. If you would like to find out more about futurefact and its extensive attitudinal databases please contact Jos Kuper 082 904 9939 or check out www. futurefact.co.za

First published in The Media Jan 2015