Internet 4.0: Farewell to digital illiteracy

Main visual : Internet 4.0: Farewell to digital illiteracy

Thanks to Internet 4.0 the digital world is becoming more and more accessible. Digital skills are no longer a prerequisite.

It is one of my favourite commercials on Dutch television: you see an elderly lady doing one of those old-fashioned jigsaw puzzles. You hear a cuckoo clock but can’t see it. Then the lady reaches into her lap and produces a smartphone: the device has a ‘cuckoo’ ringtone. The message behind this commercial is that some people are more tech savvy than you might think.

Why is this such a good advert? Because it’s a splendid reflection of the time we live in. I recently took part in a forum discussion where the risks of digital illiteracy were addressed in depth. Digital illiteracy refers to the lack of skills needed to deal with digital information. People without these skills would fall far behind. And that would be a financial burden on society because traditional services would have to be maintained alongside a digital infrastructure. Examples include letters from the tax authorities: many people in the Netherlands receive messages via e-mail or a portal meanwhile the taxman also puts hundreds of thousands of paper envelopes in the post.

I wonder whether a fear of digital illiteracy is still relevant. And how IT savvy someone needs to be in 2018 in order to work with digital applications. A key factor is the emergence and growth of Internet 4.0. This is an ubiquitous development, visible and yet ‒ even more so ‒ invisible. The English have dubbed it as ‘the Ambient Internet’, a fluid internet that seeps into every nook and cranny.

Internet 4.0 appears in various forms and is embedded in a range of devices that we use on a daily basis, or don’t immediately associate with access to digital information. It’s user interface is naturally known to humans, namely the voice. Examples include Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Home and Microsoft’s Cortana. Users can operate such a device even if they have no knowledge about the device itself or about the technology employed by Alexa, Siri or Cortana to execute tasks. All they need to do is speak ‒ the intelligence behind the technology takes care of the rest.

A concrete example is online banking. For large groups of people, not just senior citizens, it took a long time to get used to it as they were used to the familiar deposit and withdrawal slips, which they took to the bank in an envelope. This was a familiar and safe territory. For online banking you do need certain digital skills. However, banks and insurers are making great strides forward by developing apps that work on the basis of voice recognition. The apps are sensitive to context and even use artificial intelligence, thus literally learning to understand the customer. If a transaction doesn’t fit in with a customer’s regular behaviour or is unusual in the context surrounding the transaction, the bank is alerted. The customer does not see implications behind the intelligence aspect and is therefore completely oblivious to the extremely complex technology underlying the transaction.

In this sense, Internet 4.0 is a perfect paradox: it is present everywhere at the same time and yet completely invisible. But it simplifies life considerably even for those with limited IT skills, and that is technology’s ultimate goal.