Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Can blogs save Europe?

One of the hopes we have for Covenant Zone is to seek ways of harnessing the potential of the internet to affect public debates on the important issues of the day.
The 2004 US elections as well as the recent Canadian national election offered us tantalizing previews of what awaits us in future electoral campaigns, across the globe, as alternative streams of information serve to reveal a fourth dimension to the three-dimensional world we’d grown accustomed to: a new dimension of interactivity and communication.

A new study being discussed in European media this week, suggests that the effects of this revolution may take some time to spread from North America to Europe, as More than one European in three knows nothing about computers:

[translated from a Belgian french media website; any corrections or precisions to my translation are welcomed and appreciated]

June 20, 2006
More than one European in three knows nothing about computers

In 2005, 37% of Europeans between 16 and 74 years of age did not have any basic understanding of computers, according to statistics delivered Tuesday by Eurostat, the european office for statistics.

This unawareness is more noteworthy in women (39%) than with men (34%). The proportion of people who know nothing about computers, however, differs greatly from country to country, varying from 65% in Greece to 59% in Italy to 10% in Denmark or almost 11% in Switzerland...

Unsurprisingly, it is older persons who know the least about computers (65% of Europeans from ages 55 to 74). Within the 25 to 54 age-group, 29% of Europeans have no basic understanding of computers whatsoever, against 17% who possess a weak level of competence, and 29% [having] a medium level. Only 25% command a high level of understanding.

10% of Europeans from 16 to 24 years of age absolutely do not know how to use a computer, a number particularly high in Hungary (34%), in Greece (32%) and in Italy (28%). The study also shows that 39% of unemployed people in the EU have no computer knowledge whatsoever, more than the average for the european population as a whole.

This is a startling and distressing study, if accurate. With little chance of having their voices heard or their worldview reflected in their national media, pro-western Europeans should be turning to the internet and to blogs in particular, as alternative opportunities for communication. (I admit I am jumping to the conclusion that computer illiteracy = little to no internet access, but it seems a safe assumption to my mind.)

Does the paucity of computer literacy grant a minority of people more power, or less, I wonder? "In the Country Of The Blind, The One-Eyed Man is King", said H.G. Wells in an amusing short story, where a mountaineer stumbles upon an isolated community of blind people, but finds that his sight is an ability that it is inconceivable to the blind tribesmen he attempts to rule, thereby giving him no advantage whatsoever, and he finds himself treated not as the village tyrant but as the village idiot. Anyone who has ever had a conversation with someone who forms their opinion on current events through suckling at the teat of the CBC can imagine what this study of european computer-savviness means for political discourse on that continent; how can one win converts to a conservative, pro-west cause when one is using a different set of facts than one's opponent?

1 comment:

truepeers said...

But I know four and five-year-olds who know how to use a computer! What exactly does no knowledge, or high knowledge, entail? Are they including skills like programming?

Of course, if you've never sat down in front of a computer you will not learn what is minimally required to browse the net but I can't imaginine that the vast majority of Euros couldn't learn. So I guess they just don't care to. It looks like there will still be a lot of people voting for socialism and getting socialist educations and minds in return. I can't believe the numbers for Italy. I know higher education isn't taken too seriously there, but I thought their elementary and secondary schooling was quite rigorous (according to my cousins), and they are more or less a post-industrial nation with the key indicator of an educated amd wealthy womanhood: one of the lowest birth rates in the world.

Now that i mention it, I'm thinking of my Italian aunt: my uncle married an Italian and eventually went off to live in Italy. He is a fairly wealthy man and so there was money for travel. But she refused to ever visit us in "America" (and i don't think it was out of personal animosity) because she said she could not stand to be among people chained to machines, clocks, modern systems, etc. She took all her vacations in poor, tropical countries (with the exception of London where my uncle is from - gotta do some shopping). My cousin told me one story, however, of some friends finally managing to convince her to go with them to New York: they wanted to shop, but she gets off the plane and heads straight to Harlem so that she could be with the real people, where she stayed the whole time, no doubt charming every one - she's a firm believer that northern white people got no soul. Maybe much of southern Europe is like that?