The Digital Universe
The internet is pervading more and more areas of people's lives – especially those of the digital natives. So, what is life like in the digital universe? The answers are surprisingly diverse. Because young people between the ages of 16 and 25 don't automatically dismiss everything that is offline as "out."
As of the late 1990s, high school students in Switzerland were still writing essays on the topic "Is the internet hopelessly overrated?" Today this question would be roughly as controversial as "Is the Earth round?" Over 85 percent of young people in all four countries surveyed say that the internet plays an important or even essential role in their lives. This is reflected in the amount of time they spend online. With the exception of the Swiss, a majority of the young respondents spend more than two hours per day on the internet – for their own personal purposes, in addition to time spent online for school or work.
Proportion of young people who use the internet for personal reasons for more than two hours on a typical day
However, although – or perhaps because – the members of this generation have no memory of life without the internet, they make clear distinctions based on the task at hand. Depending on that task, they decide whether or not to go online. Young people like to make payments online, and they often use the internet for social and political activities, hobbies and job searches. "Hobbies" includes all leisure-time pursuits, including gaming and chatting (online) as well as playing football or participating in scouting activities (offline). Among the activities that are more likely to take place offline are the following: flirting and dating, working, obtaining financial advice, shopping for clothes, spending time with friends and – with the exception of young people in Switzerland – comparing products.
These findings hold true in general, but even in our globalized world there are substantial regional differences. Young people in Brazil are extremely likely to choose the online option, while for the Swiss it depends on the specific situation. In Switzerland, offline is still preferred when it comes to voting, political and social engagement and hobbies – areas that are closely related to what is often called political culture. It is therefore not surprising that 60 percent of Switzerland's young people describe themselves as members of a club or association; four years ago this was true of only 52 percent. On the other hand, transactional activities such as a job search or a product comparison clearly belong to the digital realm in Switzerland.
The attitude of "digital natives" toward the internet is not unreservedly positive.
It may come as a surprise that the attitude of "digital natives" toward the internet is not unreservedly positive. Between 72 percent (US) and 86 percent (Brazil) believe that they benefit personally from the internet, but far fewer are convinced that our increasingly connected world is good for society (results range from 60 percent in the US to 83 percent in Brazil). The Swiss are more conscious than the respondents from other countries of the discrepancy between personal and social benefits (13 percent).
To understand young people, it is important to examine how they communicate. The survey's findings: 1. Mobile telephones play a central role for this generation; landlines are relatively rare. 2. Here, too, countries differ substantially. For example, the messaging service WhatsApp is extremely popular in Brazil, Singapore and Switzerland, but almost unknown in the United States. Why? Sending text messages has always been free in the US, in most cases, so users never had a reason to switch to another messaging service. As a result, US respondents are the only ones who still regularly send SMS text messages. 3. The social network Facebook plays a central role in the digital landscape; indeed, more than half of the respondents are convinced that it is changing the world. Surprisingly, however, Facebook is not very important as a means of communication (you can find an explanation for this at Trends and Media).
To end on a positive note: While parents may not always understand the world that their digitally socialized children inhabit, this doesn't mean that young people lack a sense of responsibility. Over 78 percent are conscious of the need to protect themselves on the internet. And 69 percent would like the government to play a more important role in this regard.