Lena-Sophie Mueller of Initiative D21, left, and others at a Japan-Germany symposium on digital society in Berlin in February (Toshihiko Katsuda)
“How do I double click?” “What is a cell in a spreadsheet?”
Mashiko Ishii often hears that her fellow lecturers at Uchida Human Resources Development Center become confused when they are asked such basic questions during training for new employees of IT companies.
Pressing the button of a computer mouse twice and knowing the basic unit for data input in spreadsheets are some of the fundamentals of using a computer, but it is not uncommon for even would-be system engineers to ask such questions.
The reason is clear. As smartphones have become extremely convenient, a growing number of students have never laid their hands on a personal computer.
Lecturers who work with Ishii often start training by teaching students how to use a keyboard.
“We need to teach them the basics before we start classes,” Ishii says.
Younger generations often become underdogs in offices if they are unable to handle the technical requirements for their jobs.
Yoshiaki Hashimoto, a professor of information socio-psychology at the University of Tokyo’s graduate school, is worried that “a new digital divide is being born.”
According to analysis by Hashimoto and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the Internet usage rate with smartphones and mobile devices was more than 80 percent among the demographic aged 10-19 from 2012 to 2016, but the proportion of those who used personal computers plummeted from 76 percent to 56 percent over the same period.
Given that they can write and submit their school reports with smartphones, they are not outsiders to the world of the Internet. However, much of this does not align with the knowledge necessary to work in their future jobs.
The digital divide often refers to elderly people who are unfamiliar with IT equipment, but it seems that this phenomenon is also beginning to affect Japan’s youth.
The digital divide has not been resolved for the aging population. According to Hashimoto, although the Internet usage rate rose to 88 percent in 2016 among those in their 60s, the ratio of those visiting websites was only 60 percent.
It seems that there are many elderly people who cannot gather information they need, even though they can send e-mails on cellphones.
I covered a Japan-Germany symposium on digital society in Berlin in February.
Lena-Sophie Mueller, of the German nonprofit Initiative D21, pointed out: “Timetables (for railways) are no longer available in paper form. More and more services are based on the Internet and without access, those on the other side of the Internet are excluded from social participation.”
While the digitization of society makes our lives more convenient, it shows that there are still weaknesses in our system and that the benefits do not extend to everyone.
It’s a good reminder to think again that we need to keep our eye on technology’s limits and to consider what we can do to fix them.