imec.digimeter 2020: A year of digital acceleration, but with nuances…

(20-04-2021) Almost all Flemish citizens can connect digitally, but it's no guarantee that they also can function digitally.

Today we present the twelfth edition of the imec.digimeter. On the one hand, it is striking that the corona year 2020 resulted in a significant digital acceleration. After all, the Flemish citizens invested even more time and money in smart screens and digital platforms, and the average daily mobile screen time skyrocketed by almost 40 minutes (with an increased use of social media as an absolute exponent). 

On the other hand, in its pursuit of a digitally inclusive Flanders, the government still faces a number of important challenges. For example, the laggards - who lack access to (basic) digital technology and the right skills - must be on boarded quickly. In addition, sufficient attention must be paid to the large group of Flemish citizens who are currently on board, but who do not feel ready to embrace the technology of tomorrow (such as artificial intelligence). Their concerns also need our attention. 

Corona year 2020: the year of digital acceleration 

“The first conclusion of the new imec.digimeter is that the Flemish citizens have invested even more time and money in their digital lifestyle over the past year”, Lieven De Marez says, Professor New Communication Technologies at imec-mict-UGent.

The investment in extra screens is particularly striking. After all, recent editions of the imec.digimeter showed that almost every Flemish citizen already had at least one smart device available. Nevertheless, 5% of the respondents indicated that they had too few screens at the start of the lockdown to be able to work and/or study from home smoothly. Extra digital tools were also purchased for (outdoor) activities. For example, the number of wearables - such as sports watches - went up. Now 37% of the Flemish owns a wearable.

“Digital media platforms also boomed. Paid platforms for streaming films and series, for example, could appeal up to 50% of Flemish citizens. Again, the corona pandemic caused a clear acceleration: 9% of the Flemish citizens subscribed for one or more streaming platforms in 2020 as a direct result of the lockdownsLieven De Marez explains.  

"So it's not surprising that screen time has also skyrocketed," he continues. “Our MobileDNA research - with which we accurately map the smartphone use of the Flemish - shows that the average mobile screen time has increased to 3 hours and 5 minutes per day; an increase of 37 minutes. In particular the use of social media boomed in response to the social distancing and lockdown measures: in 2020 the Flemish citizen spent 73 minutes a day on social media platforms - compared to 49 minutes in 2019. TikTok, in particular, is on the rise. In the 16-24 age category, 33 percent uses the app on a daily basis, consuming an average of nearly 1 hour of screen time a day. This is mainly because TikTok is viewed in larger time blocks - just like TV shows. The question now is whether the app will effectively compete with the traditional channels in the long term.” 

Almost 40% of Flemish citizens is more positive about technology thanks to corona 

A second striking conclusion from the new imec.digimeter survey is that the corona pandemic resulted in a more positive attitude towards (digital) technology. That was the case for 38% of Flemish citizens. In addition, 64% of Flemish citizens indicated that technology made life in full lockdown more pleasant (for young people between 16 and 24 years old, that was even 81%).  

Yet 80% is not ready for the technology of tomorrow 

“Despite this digital acceleration, Flemish people are not necessarily ready for the technology of tomorrow - such as the introduction of artificial intelligence. After all, the digital divide is far from bridged”Lieven De Marez notes. 

This digital divide is expressed in three areas. It is a matter of: 

  • Having access to technology; 
  • Having the right (basic) skills to use that technology; 
  • Having a positive attitude towards technology; 

De Marez: “With regard to the latter, we have made the greatest progress in the past year: digital technology is getting the benefit of the doubt today. Yet 45% of the respondents indicates that technology is evolving too quickly for them, compared to 41 percent in 2019. And two out of ten Flemish citizens say they do not have the right skills to make optimal use of it.”  

“And there is more,” he says. “Even when it comes to access to technology, there is still work to be done. I already referred to the Flemish who lacked screens. In addition, it appears that 4% has to go outside in order to be able to connect to the internet.” 

How do we get everyone on board? 

“Today we must conclude that, although almost all Flemish citizens can connect digitally, this does not guarantee that they can all function digitally. There is an important role to play for the government: in our pursuit of a digitally inclusive Flanders, we must ensure that everyone is on board. Not only the small group of Flemish people who is already fully on board, but also those who really lag behind and also the large middle group who is still concerned about aspects such as digital wellbeing, fake news and privacy. Those two groups represent 80% of the Flemish", De Marez concludes. 

"Digital transformation is not only looking forward, but also looking back," Dimitri Schuurman says, Competence Manager Business & Domain Expertise at imec. "Together with the 'eHealth monitor', the 'AI and cybersecurity barometer' and the 'Smart City Meter', the digimeter gives a broad view on the technology adoption rate in Flanders. The insights from our meter studies are important ingredients to further guide various innovation projects. This imec.digimeter shows that there is still a lot of work to be done. The digital transformation is clearly taking place at different speeds and seems to accentuate a number of differences between Flemish citizens. The question is not whether we should digitize further, but how we can shape the digital transformation in an inclusive way. Citizens, knowledge institutions, governments and companies must join forces to answer this question." 

Download the new imec.digimeter rapport here 
Contact: Prof. dr. Lieven De Marez 

About imec.digimeter 

imec.digimeter is an independent research project that makes valuable information about Flemish technology users available for institutions, companies and the general public since 2009. The new report (2020) is based on a survey of 2981 Flemish people aged sixteen or older - represented by age, gender, education level and region (province).

About imec 

imec is the world's leading research and innovation hub in nano-electronics and digital technology. The combination of the pioneering role in microchip technology and the software and ICT expertise makes imec unique. imec has also unique infrastructure and a local and international ecosystem of partners in various sectors. Together with those stakeholders imec is working on groundbreaking innovations in application areas such as healthcare, smart cities and mobility, logistics and Industry 4.0, energy and education. imec is a trusted partner of companies, start-ups and universities, bringing together more than 4000 top scientists from nearly 100 countries. imec is headquartered in Leuven and has R&D groups spread over a number of Flemish universities, in the Netherlands, Taiwan and the US, and offices in China, India and Japan. In 2019, imec's operating income amounted to 640 million euros. More information at 

imec is a registered trademark for the activities of IMEC International (a legal entity set up under Belgian law as a "foundation of public utility"), imec Belgium (IMEC vzw supported by the Flemish Government), imec the Netherlands (Stichting IMEC Nederland, part of Holst Center and OnePlanet, supported by the Dutch Government), imec Taiwan (IMEC Taiwan Co.) imec China (IMEC Microelectronics (Shanghai) Co. Ltd.), imec India (Imec India Private Limited), and imec Florida (IMEC USA nano-electronics design center). 

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