World Youth Report 2005

B. Information and communication technologies

9. An area where young people have an edge is the emerging information society driven by new technologies. Young people are often the leading innovators in the use and spread of information and communications technologies. They adapt quickly and are generally quite hungry for the great quantities of information, locally and globally, that can be provided through emerging information and communication technologies.

10. Information and communication technologies have become a significant factor in development, having a profound impact on the political, economic and social sectors of many countries. While many equate information and communication technologies primarily with mobile and more advanced technologies, a more useful definition of information and communication technologies includes all technologies that enable the handling of information and facilitate different forms of communication. By expanding the notion of information and communication technologies to include both older and newer technologies, from newspapers, radio and television to camcorders, computers and cell phones, the full impact of information and communication technologies on the social development of youth can be better understood. The distinction between old and new technologies may become outdated as radio, television, satellite technologies and the Internet are combined in innovative ways to reach a wide range of target audiences.

11. The proliferation of information and communication technologies presents both opportunities and challenges in terms of the social development and inclusion of youth. Young people often use the Internet to access entertainment and news sites and as a personal meeting space through chat programmes. They are also making use of possibilities provided by new technologies to advance their participation in a number of civic activities. There is also an increased emphasis on using information and communication technologies in the context of global youth priorities, such as access to education, employment and poverty eradication. Yet questions remain as to whether information and communication technologies can empower young people and improve their lives or whether they are deepening the already existing inequalities and divisions in the world. The important concerns of a global “digital divide” apply as much to youth as to any other age group.

12. There are still great disparities in the distribution and use of many forms of technology. For example, 331 per 1,000 people in Europe use the Internet, while approximately 15 per 1,000 in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, 37 per 1,000 in the Middle East and Africa and 92 per 1,000 in Latin America and the Caribbean use the Internet. While these data are not youth specific, young people are among the principle users of computers and are likely highly represented in these figures. It is also important to note that the disparity is not as great in the use of older forms of technology, such as radio and television, making these media extremely useful in information distribution. For example, while 813 per 1,000 people in Europe own radios, the corresponding figures are 198 per 1,000 in sub-Saharan Africa, 277 per 1,000 in the Middle East and North Africa and 410 per 1,000 in Latin America and the Caribbean.e

13. Lack of access to information and communication technologies has remained a major challenge to youth. Special efforts must be made for youth in rural areas to establish connectivity, given that rapid developments in wireless technology have made it possible to overcome the physical impediments of distance and topography, at a reasonable cost, that for long have limited the development of telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas. Shared access to these services can increase their impact. In the most remote and sparsely populated areas, existing market incentives may often provide insufficient stimulus to private investment and government funding may be required. The digital divide, characterized by highly unequal access to and use of information and communication technologies, manifests itself both at the international and domestic levels and therefore needs to be addressed by national policy makers, as well as the international community.

14. There is a growing effort to promote social action and community development among young people through electronic communications, “cyberparticipation ” and “e-citizenship”. Today, information and communication technologies and new media are becoming core components of youth civic engagement and activism. Given the existing connections between new media, the Internet and young people, it can be inferred that new media and information and communication technologies have enabled young people’s activism at a general level and influenced the diverse forms it has taken. Most directly, information and communication technologies are used for communication and coordination of youth movements and for contributing to a sense of e-solidarity among individuals and groups with different agendas. Technology has also increased youth awareness of issues, problems and crises in other parts of the world. New technologies bring these issues to people in very direct ways and allow for instantaneous communication among activists. In many countries the Internet is the least-controlled medium for information, and it can be a powerful tool for activists and advocacy groups, contributing to increased transparency, the development of civil society and democracy. Lists servers, temporary and long-term web sites and collective online writing and editing of documents are common features of today’s youth activism. Such tools are commonly used by young people to prepare and contribute their submissions to political processes and international meetings. Measures to improve access to the Internet and to increase information technology literacy at large should be encouraged. The effective use of technology should help to strengthen various forms of youth engagement.

15. When available, information and communication technologies have a potential to improve young people’s access to better education. Many schools and vocational training centres are taking advantage of information and communication technologies to provide distance learning and to train teachers in new instructional methods. Digital opportunities are particularly effective in reaching rural communities that lack large libraries and other educational resources. Through information and communication technologies, curricula can be updated and distributed more effectively. Their usefulness of information and communication technologies in education depends on their proper delivery, but there are model practices of cost-effective and country-differentiated solutions to increase access to education through information and communication technologies. Technology is changing the way classrooms operate through integrating multimedia textbooks, online research, and student presentations that make the learning process more interactive and participatory.

16. Utilizing information and communication technologies to promote youth employment has expanded during the last decade. Local e-commerce may open significant livelihood opportunities for young people and smaller networks and provide young people with the opportunity to develop professionally without having to relocate from their families and support networks. At the grass-roots level, there are several examples of opportunities for entrepreneurship in information and communication technology among lower income youth. The worldwide expansion of mobile phone networks and the growth in the number of mobile phone subscribers has been phenomenal in recent years. The availability of mobile phone networks in many low and middle-income countries opens up many opportunities for young people. One common option is to purchase a mobile phone through a microcredit programme and to earn income by providing low cost phone calls to others. Literacy, skills, and accessibility to information and communication technologies are key to using them to provide employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for youth.

17. Many young people, however, are excluded from the information revolution; others are affected by the way information and communication technologies may challenge traditional forms of socialization. Others struggle to balance influences exerted by the family and local community with those exerted by the global and cross-cultural influences of information and communication technologies. The increased use of mobile phones, for instance, has affected the daily interactions of youth almost everywhere. Information and communication technologies can be an independent factor in the lives of young people, influencing behavioural and value patterns that differ from those of older generations. In this sense, information and communication technologies create a new landscape of socialization. The succession of generations as one of the central means of transmission of traditional practices can thus be eroded. In fact, the direction of socialization can be reversed as the younger generation teaches its elders to use the emerging technologies. However, information and communication technologies and the media do not preclude influence of such traditional actors as parents and schools. The emergence of a global media-driven youth culture as propelled by information and communication technologies thus creates conditions for two-directional socialization between generations and may overturn the common assumption that young people are not full members of society until they complete the process of socialization.

18. Some critics argue that information and communication technologies implicitly carry a cultural package of values associated with Western popular culture. Yet it should be emphasized that youth culture is very much a local phenomenon as well as a global one. Young people use, adapt and interpret global products in terms of their own local cultures and experiences, and in the process they create hybrid cultural forms whose meanings vary with local circumstances. While traditional, protectionist policies in limiting new media and information and communication technologies may no longer be realistic to implement, it may be equally inadequate to adopt a liberal approach that asserts young people’s access to new media without any need for protection. To support youth in their use of information and communication technologies, a three-pronged strategy could be envisaged that aims at the adequate provision of media for young people, encourages participation by young people in the production of media in the formation of media policy and promotes education that emphasizes information and communication technology literacy as a significant dimension of contemporary citizenship.


e. See World Bank and International Telecommunication Union, World Development Indicators 2004 (Washington, D.C., 2004).