The relationship between German citizens and the Internet and digital technology remains ambivalent. In 2021, 91 percent of people in Germany were online. That is three percentage points more than in the previous year. The hard core of citizens without access to the Internet melts to around 6.3 million. According to an analysis by the D21 initiative, 76 percent of these nonliners have a low level of education, 70 percent are women and 52 percent belong to the generation up to 1945. At the same time, 31 percent say they want to be offline more often in the future.
Degree of digitization increased
These are key figures from the situation report of the digital society for 2021/22, which the D21 initiative published on Wednesday. The degree of digitization is therefore increasing overall: The digital index is now 63 out of 100 points, compared to 60 in the previous year. This indicator measures how fit the population is in dealing with digital technologies in private and working life. The reason for the plus is the growth in the sub-indices access, user behavior and, above all, competence (4 points more). On the other hand, openness to digital topics fell by one point to 51 points.
For the representative study, the market research institute Kantar conducted 18,243 interviews on behalf of D21 between August 2020 and July 2021. There was also an in-depth survey with 2024 participants. According to this, more and more people are at least keeping up digitally, but according to the analysis, the digitally isolated part is also falling further behind.
In concrete terms, the largest increases in Internet access are among the less formally educated and the non-employed. At the same time, the use of certain groups with already very high online values is stagnating: people with a high level of education and those in employment show increases of more than one percentage point, neither in general nor in mobile internet use.
In addition, more than one in four (27 percent) feels constant pressure to keep up with developments in digitalization. Employed people agree here much more frequently than non-employed people (31 to 20 percent), part-time workers even more often at 35 percent. On the other hand, 59 percent believe that they personally benefit from the Internet.
82 percent are mobile on the Internet. However, this form of access will only increase slightly in 2021 compared to the steep upward trend of previous years. The researchers calculate that by 2026, all citizens aged 14 and over in Germany would be able to use the Internet at least occasionally if Internet use continued to increase at the average rate of the last five years. However, if you take a closer look at the individual socio-demographic groups, this time horizon does not apply to everyone equally. It would take another seven years for those with a low level of formal education and those aged 70 and over.
According to the results, 82 percent of people in Germany use at least one social network, and on average there are even three services. WhatsApp is the most widespread with 76 percent users, followed by YouTube and Facebook with 49 and 45 percent respectively. Social media and platforms are generally places of exchange, it is said. However, this could also have a negative impact. It must be ensured that the digital networking options are not misused "as an instrument for destabilizing democracy".
A good quarter of the population sees such a danger. This became particularly clear "in the discourse on political measures to combat the corona pandemic" – "from the incitement in groups on the messenger telegram to the attempted storming of the Reichstag," the authors write. This development is characterized by the targeted dissemination of disinformation in the form of an infodemic. Only a good half of citizens (56 percent) dare to recognize dubious news, and among people with a low level of education only one in three.
More mobile working
In the first year of the pandemic, the proportion of professionals working remotely doubled to a record nearly a third. The value has largely leveled off. 31 percent of employees were working from home in 2021, compared to 32 percent in 2020. There were still major differences in the equipment with the appropriate hardware and software, the security-relevant precautions for data-protecting and secure work in the home office and the digital skills of employers and employees.
Compared to the previous year, which was characterized by an at least partially corona-related boost in the use of devices, there will generally be little movement in the use of devices in 2021. The use of laptops (66 percent) and desktop PCs (47 percent) is stagnating, and the upward trend is also only slowly continuing for smartphones (87 percent), wearables (13 percent) and voice assistants (12 percent). 15 percent still use fax machines.
The focus of the study this time is on the aspect of sustainability. It is therefore not easy for people to assess the effects of digitization on ecological sustainability and the underlying causal relationships. A good third (34 percent) of the population believes that technology as a whole has a rather positive impact on the environment.
However, 35 percent assume that negative effects such as electronic waste, problematic raw material extraction and increased traffic will outweigh the negative ones. One in five thinks that the individual contribution through their own digital behavior can contribute the most to climate protection. 60 percent buy from local suppliers according to their own description, instead of ordering online. 42 percent correctly estimated that one hour of high-resolution streaming causes as much CO2 as a one-kilometer drive.