Germany – Country of Poets and Digitisation Sceptics?
Artificial intelligence, digitisation, and broadband deployment – these technologies reflect badly on Germany. On an international scale, the country is lagging behind and often performs poorly in rankings.
When it comes to adapting and using new technologies, the German government excels most of all in one discipline: painful slowness. While State Minister for Digitisation Dorothee Bär is already dreaming of flying taxis, many parts of Germany are not even equipped with high-speed internet connections yet. E-government would bring great relief to many citizens – but again, Germany underperforms, regardless of whether digitisation has become an inherent part of business and private life. There is a reason why we call our era the information and internet age. The increasing digitisation of all parts of life does not only promise great innovation but also presents a challenge to every individual to get more involved in and learn more about technology.
Sometimes people coquettishly argue that Germans are not very tech-savvy anyway and are also not willing to make an effort in this regard. Every now and then, someone claims we are technology sceptics. This idea stems from the image that many members of the educated middle class still hold dear, that Germany is the country of poets and thinkers, where for a long time, people almost took pride in their lack of mathematic and technological skills.
But how much do Germans love technology today? Concept m research + consulting has conducted a study on this topic. This year, we asked 1,000 German citizens in an online survey about their attitudes to life, technophilia being one of the topics covered in the questionnaire. More than half of them, about 56%, said they were rather technophile or even very technophile, while only 16% claimed they did rather not or not care at all about technology.
This shows that at least one in two Germans see themselves as tech-savvy. Digital natives (18-39 years old), the generation that was born into the digital era, are generally expected to be inherently more knowledgeable about technology, whereas digital immigrants (40+) sometimes struggle with adapting to new digital developments. Empirical findings suggest that age and tech-savviness correlate negatively – the older people are, the less technophile they are. But comparing the two groups, we do not see a striking difference: 45% of the older survey participants said they were technophile, compared to 62% of digital natives.
There are however differences between the genders: 24% of women see themselves as not or rather not tech-savvy, while 40% said they were technophile to very technophile. Only 9% of male participants, on the other hand, claim to be not or rather not technophile, and 72% think they are technophile or very technophile. Parents often lay the foundation for their children’s future relationship to technology, depending on the toys they pick for their offspring, and the development continues later in school and in professional life. In the 2018 statistics published by the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) on the number of women in STEM professions between 2013 and 2017, there is an increase by only 0.8% to 15.2% overall.
While these old differences between men and women persist, the gap between people living in cities vs. those living in the countryside is smaller. There is only a one-digit difference between these two groups. Germans in rural areas are interested in technological innovations and are willing and capable to deal with them. It is therefore important that broadband expansion programmes include improved access to fast internet connections in these areas.
The digital revolution could lead to more decentralised structures in private and professional life. If we had access to fast internet anywhere, many tasks and activities could be carried out in every village or small town. New forms of mobility and life concepts could evolve. But the government needs to step up the efforts to create adequate conditions for this transformation. It is presumptuous to argue citizens would not ask for it or not need it.
Dr. Martin Schultze