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Young? Been online five years? Congrats, you are the ELITE MINORITY

Most of world's youth still not 'digital natives,' study finds

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It's a truism that today's young people are born into a world of computers, video games, and the internet, and are therefore much more comfortable with technology than their elders are. But the actual number of so-called digital natives worldwide may still be smaller than you think.

According to a report released on Monday by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an agency of the United Nations, a mere 5.2 per cent of the world's roughly 7 billion people qualify as digital natives.

Moreover, even among the world's youth – meaning those between the ages of 15 and 24 – digital natives remain the minority. The report defines a digital native as a youth who has five or more years' experience using the internet, and in 2012 only 30 per cent of global youth qualified.

Still, the ITU's study found that the number of young people fully acclimated to the digital age is large and growing. In 2012, some 363 million youth had already earned that distinction.

"If all digital natives came together to make up their own country, it would be slightly bigger than the United States, the world's third most populous nation," the report states. "The sum of all digital natives also represents more than the entire population of Brazil and Mexico combined."

As it turns out, however, the real-world country you live in has a lot to do with whether you can be considered a digital native. And contrary to what you might think, the United States doesn't lead the world's nations in this regard, while the UK doesn't even make the top ten.

Leading the list of countries in terms of digital natives as a percentage of total population were Iceland, New Zealand, South Korea, Malaysia, and Lithuania, in that order. The US came in sixth and the UK was twenty-fifth.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the list was Timor-Leste – otherwise known as East Timor – followed by Myanmar, Sierra Leone, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In each of these countries, less than 0.3 per cent of the population could be considered digital natives.

It's not too hard to see the pattern. Countries with large populations tended to have large numbers of digital natives, naturally, and countries that were more prosperous tended to have higher numbers of digital natives per capita. But among those countries with the lowest number of digital natives, local conditions seemed to play an even bigger role.

"The ten countries with the lowest proportion of digital natives – all well below one in 100 people – are mostly nations suffering from conflict," the report explains.

The report also looked specifically at the percentage of each nation's youth that could be considered digital natives, as opposed to its population as a whole. By this metric, too, other regions are outpacing the US and the UK.

While 95.6 per cent of US youth and 89.5 per cent of UK youth were considered digital natives in 2012, in Japan the figure was 99.5 per cent and in Korea it was 99.6 per cent. Other countries with a higher percentage of digitally savvy youth than the US included the Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, and Latvia.

Within a generation, internet access will seem as natural in these countries as indoor plumbing and paved roads. Meanwhile, other countries are still struggling to bring their populations into the internet age.

One interesting example is India. A nation of 1.2 billion people, India has long been one of the leading providers of IT outsourcing. Yet only 1.8 per cent of its total population could be considered digital natives in 2012, and only 9.5 per cent of its youth. Still, the impact of India's digital natives in the coming years, both on the country and on the world as a whole, cannot be ignored.

"In developed economies, the majority of young people are already online, as are most of the population as a whole," the report explains. "As a result, digital nativism may confer less of a driving role or unique position on youth – whether in relation to their peers or to the population as a whole. By contrast, for the developing economies, the findings may offer much more food for thought."

Oh, and China, you ask? The Middle Kingdom ranked 89th on the list of countries surveyed, behind such lightweights as Zimbabwe, Micronesia, and Mauritius, with just 5.6 per cent of its total population considered digital natives, and 34.7 per cent of its youth. But given that the People's Republic is home to nearly 1.4 billion people, those figures aren't anything to sneeze at, either. ®

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