Groups of people on either side of a large divide in the ground.
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Ireland’s digital divide grew during the pandemic, says Accenture

24 Mar 2022

Accenture’s 2022 Digital Index highlights concerns that a divide in digital skills is growing among older and less advantaged groups.

A new Accenture report released today (24 March) suggests that longstanding issues within Ireland’s developing digital society, such as skill gaps, have grown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report notes that while barriers to digital engagement are declining, a portion of the population are at risk of being isolated from the digital economy.

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The report includes the results from a survey of 1,000 adults in Ireland, with diversity in terms of gender, age and social class. The results suggest that everyday digital skills have grown rapidly as a result of the pandemic, such as online interactions and mobile phone use.

More than half (58pc) of respondents said they made more video calls online as a result of the pandemic, while 47pc did more shopping online and 56pc said they interact more on social media. Most of these activities are being done on mobile phones, which are used by 95pc of the survey respondents.

However, the results suggest that certain digital tasks are less common for those in lower socioeconomic groups, with 44pc of people in a less advantaged socioeconomic group conducting financial purchases online compared to 62pc in a more advantaged socioeconomic group.

‘There are cohorts of the population not benefiting from, or engaging with, digital society – at work or in their everyday lives’

Accenture said this report follows on from its 2020 report called Bridging the Gap – Ireland’s Digital Divide, which featured research conducted prior to the pandemic. That report said that at least 25pc of the Irish population was excluded from an “increasingly digital society” because of socioeconomic reasons, which was leading to a “two-speed digital economy”.

Accenture Ireland country managing director Alastair Blair said there are clear indicators that people “generally” have become more digitally engaged in the past two years.

“However, there are cohorts of the population not benefiting from, or engaging with, digital society – at work or in their everyday lives,” Blair said.

“These gaps are not going to close on their own so it’s incumbent on all of us, in business and across the wider ecosystem, to be aware of people’s wellbeing when it comes to digital engagement while helping them ‘skill up’ and play an active part in the digital economy.“

The report warns that a portion of the population could be left behind in terms of digital skills. The advances in digital skills seen in the report are largely confined to everyday skills, while there appears to be less of a drive in some population groups to learn more advanced skills.

Around 35pc percent of respondents said there are no areas in their lives – personally or professionally – that require an improvement in digital skills. This rises to 45pc when looking at the 45 to 54 age group, which the report describes as a “call for concern”.

The report suggests that age is a consistent barrier for digital inclusion, as those in lower age groups performed better in digital skills scores compared to the over-55 group, which is “significantly under-performing”.

Department of Public Expenditure and Reform CIO Barry Lowry said: “When the world’s changing this rapidly, government has an obligation to try to convince and facilitate people to acquire some degree of digital competence, just as governments did over the last 100 years when it came to increasing reading and writing competence.”

Digital fatigue and fake news

While the Covid-19 pandemic has caused people to become more digitally active, it also appears to have increased digital fatigue. The majority of people in the survey said they are spending too much time online and are actively trying to cut back.

Nearly half (45pc) said they are actively trying to reduce the amount of technology they use each day, while 20pc of people try to get away from technology as soon as they finish work.

Respondents reported low comfort levels when it comes to installing applications and changing privacy settings on social media sites.

There was also less of a gap across age and socioeconomic background when it came to identifying false information such as untrustworthy sources, fake news or fraudulent emails, which suggests people across society are not completely comfortable with this.

The report notes that another type of digital divide may need to be tackled in future – the gap between perception and reality when individuals assess their own digital competence, particularly with fake news and cyberthreats.

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Leigh Mc Gowran
By Leigh Mc Gowran

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic since November 2021. He has previously worked as an environmental and breaking news journalist, and a local radio presenter. When he’s not writing articles and stressing about the climate emergency, he enjoys judging the latest film releases and perfecting his renowned cooking skills. He also has a love for video games, coffee and cats.

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