The Information Society Should be Useful... and show it

Carlos López Blanco. President of ENTER. IE Business School

27 February 2007

Though Spain still lags behind other countries in embracing the information society, it is making a concerted attempt to catch up.

Recently, various publications have published worrisome statistics that underscore just how slow Spain has been to join the information society and adopt new technologies. These figures often fuel pessimism, given that they indicate a relative backwardness compared to other countries in the European Union (EU), not to mention the United States or members of the up-and-coming Asia-Pacific area. There is, however, little reseach explaining why we are failing to make the big jump forward-- an important goal that both experts and local authorities say is key for consolidating the Spanish model of growth and prosperity.

But just because Spain is behind, does not necessarily mean it isn’t moving forward or, more importantly, that it isn’t evolving. Nor does it mean Spain isn’t assimilating new trends like the rest of the world, it just does it at a slower rate. In other words, even though we are still far from our goal and, no matter how slow progress seems, we should not fall into the trap of defeatism. Our situation is not as bad as those masochistic statistics would have us believe.

The 2006 report on Spain’s Information Society, which is to be published shortly by the Telefonica foundation, gives us tangible examples of progress. It shows interesting developments, such as the number of citizens who access the Internet on a regular basis has grown by six percentage points to 48%. It also shows that the percentage of people who use it on a daily basis has increased almost 4 points to 23.6%, while three out of every four users now access the net via broadband. This report also illustrates the growing interest in innovations such as weblogs; in fact, the statistics show 14% of users have read them and 11% have created one. Another 13% of users have joined social networks.

What all this suggests is that Spanish attitudes towards the Internet are no different from those in other countries where penetration is far higher.

As elsewhere, Spain is showing signs of changing, from a passive to a more active user of the net—a clearly qualitative leap in Internet use. It is true, however, that the uses traditionally considered to be passive--search engines (92.5%) and e-mail (88.5%)-- are still the most common applications and are increasing in relation to the more participatory uses described above and to voice applications, which are now employed by one out of every five Internet users in our country.

Whatever the case, the figures for web usage fail to shed light on why a significant part of the population remains completely ignorant of all aspects of the information society. The general, predominant explanation still points to a wide-spread perception that the web is not very useful, but there is no real research to back up that view.

However, we should not remain indifferent to such attitudes if we want to bring about a greater level of web penetration in Spanish society, in line with the countries we compare ourselves to in terms of development, wealth and well-being.

On the one hand, the collective challenge of greater web use involves being capable of incorporating tools, services and applications that are of genuine use to citizens and respond to the needs of society. And on the other hand, we face the challenge of educating people—or spreading the word-- as to what the net is really about.

The first results of a project recently launched by Enter (Information Society and Telecommunications Analysis Centre) to identify and evaluate the factors that impede people from participating in the information society, reveal that once the initial barrier is crossed, the use of the Internet accelerates relatively quickly and soon becomes a daily event. A similar conclusion also can be drawn from the Telefonica report. The percentage of companies that consider their Internet access of no use fell 54 points between 2002 and 2005 and now stands at only 15%.

Although Spain still has a long way to go, there is no reason to believe that it won’t eventually become a member of the information society, on an equal footing with other European countries. Indeed, it is important not to fall into the trap of resignation and believe that nothing will ever change.

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