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Digital Media and Lifestyle

This paper is based on two representative empiric researches, which have been performed (since the year 2000 until 2002) on the basis of a grant of the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, called "The Informatization of the Czech Society in the Context of Globalization and the European Integration." Besides other research tasks, two empiric surveys have been performed using a standardized dialogue with a representative set of 1900 and 883 respondents.

Czech society is undergoing profound changes in all areas. These changes are driven by the internal requirements and needs of Czech society and they are also a response to the process of integration into European structures. However, at the same time, society is changing from within through less conspicuous but perhaps even more important changes, which are leading the Czech Republic to an information society. The commercialisation of culture and the arrival of mass culture go hand in hand with computerisation of society and the resulting processes. As a consequence, a completely new reality is being born, which is carried primarily by the young generation. This fact has a social and an individual dimension. Changes in the living as well as the mental and social aspects of an individual and the changes in his/her lifestyle are connected with the individual dimension.

The source from which all the said changes flow is the technological platform of computerisation - material and technical equipment and acquisition of knowledge of societies new technologies. From this point of view, we can say that recent years have been aperiod in which a new quality of life of society and of individuals was being born.

Individual technologies are connected to computerisation and digitisation to varying degrees. The spreading of specific technologies in society depends on the manner in which the technology is connected with new trends in society. The following chart shows the implementation (scope and dynamics) of technologies in society over the last 12 years.

In six surveys carried out from 1992 to 2002, the same methodology was used. The respondent expressed himself/herself on a set of technical means using a three-degree scale. 1 - he/she does not own one and does not use it; 2 - he/she does not own one but uses it; 3 - he/she owns and uses it. The numbers of the degrees of the scale are used to calculate the index as a weighted arithmetic mean. The availability of the technical means is calculated for young people aged 15 - 30 because new trends appear with young people first and most strongly.

Technologies related to the preceding and outdated technological generation are disappearing from the equipment owned by young people. This is true for record players as well as cassette players. The dynamics of the process of equipping oneself with individual information technologies has its own internal logics and sequence. First, personal computers spread throughout Czech society and, in the following stages, the process of acquiring Internet access and the process of learning electronic mail technology ensued. The technology with the highest dynamics of dissemination in Czech society is the mobile telephone.

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The second chart shows figures on the percentage of each age group using and owning Internet access. It may be said that young Czech people have attained the basic standard of equipment with new information technologies, which have already started, in turn, to have an effect on young people and to change their way of living, lifestyle and entire life.

The invasion of information technologies resulted in a radical decrease in the use of older technologies. The data from comparative surveys gave exact information:

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The computerisation and digitisation processes occurring in Czech society are characterised by high dynamics, which is shown by a comparison of the computerisation indexes for the years 2000 and 2002. This index consists of 4 factors: number of hours spent on the Internet; number of hours spent on a computer; ownership of a computer; use of e-mail. From the continuum of the figures obtained, we created 5 categories, with category 1 indicating the lowest level and category 5 indicating the highest level. This group spends the greatest amount of time on a computer, owns a computer, uses the Internet and uses e-mail.

The figures of the indexes for the years 2000 and 2002 show that the computerisation of the population is advancing quickly. The computerisation index grows according to age and education.

Computerisation Index in the Years 2000 and 2002 (in %)

Computerization Index Age
15-30 31 and more
2000 2002 2000 2002
1(4) 24,0 17,4 47,4 34,5
2 (5-7) 14,6 9,6 15,8 8,9
3 (8-13) 32,1 28,0 21,0 24,0
4 (14-17) 20,3 28,5 11,5 13,5
5 (18-20) 9,0 16,4 4,2 8,5

The social area of an individual is influenced and conditioned by the technological standard of the society. Therefore, new technologies inevitably bring new possibilities and aspects into the construction and reconstruction of the social reality in two aspects.

  1. They have a supporting effect in real life. For example, a student who wants to study at a foreign university will find information on its programmes on a website. Without leaving his/her computer chair, the student will discover the possibilities ofenrolment and the scholarship conditions; he/she will book the airline ticket, etc. The entire preparatory stage will be expedited and facilitated. 10% of the respondents in the most computerised group became acquainted with their present partners on the Internet.
  2. It constructs virtual social reality - they immerse themselves socially in cyberspace. An increasing number of people are satisfying their sociogenic needs to an increasing extent in this manner. Relationships are formed between people who have never met but who communicate with each other several times a day. Women offer themselves for marriage as well as for erotic purposes through the Internet. New technologies and virtual sociability reshape and model the person at the computer into their own image. New communication skills are formed but other skills are not being developed or are atrophying. Normal human communication has become a problem for entire groups of young people. It is not unusual to see a group of young people who are in a group physically but do not communicate with each other. They send SMS messages or make phone calls on their mobiles and when they are with the people to whom they are now sending SMS messages, they will send text messages to those people with whom they were not able to speak in person.

An evaluation of the digitisation of the social area is complicated and depends on the position of the evaluator. In addition, it is a new phenomenon and its further development is a matter of speculation. Undoubtedly, one can speak of the positive and negative aspects of the digitisation of the social area. Its digitisation is associated with another phenomenon, specifically the globalisation and Europisation of the social area. The social area of Czechs (and undoubtedly not only of Czechs) is extending and acquiring new dimensions - European and global. In addition to the actual enlargement, this concerns virtual European and global space above all.

In the surveys carried out in the years 2000 and 2002, we monitored the use of electronic mail, chats and conferences and translated the results into a chart. Chart 6 shows the communication of young Czech people carried out via electronic mail within the Czech Republic, Europe and the USA. The digitisation of the living area strongly supports globalisation and integration into European structures. These mutually interconnected processes do not affect the entire population to the same degree but depend strongly on age and education. The computerisation and digitisation of the living area reinforces the social structure and widens social gaps in society. People from a certain part of society have found themselves behind a digital barrier and have become a marginal group on the periphery of society. The use of communication technologies has increased strongly, even though the interval only amounts to one and a half years. This indicates what a dynamic phenomenon is concerned.

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Globalisation and Europisation, which we regard as the creation of a European identity and a single European area in institutional and legal terms, is the determining historical-social process of the present not only for the Czech society but for the whole of Europe and all its nations.

This is why we have tried to capture the readiness and entry into the European and global space in a precise sociological manner. We have described integration into the Europisation and globalisation processes with a globalisation index[1] and Europisation index[2].

The distribution of the Czech population as described by these indexes is shown in Chart7. A strong age and education effect can be seen. Only young and middle-aged educated people are able to make use of the advantages of European and global space. According to the chart, young people aged 19 - 30 are the most integrated in the globalisation and Europisation processes at present, or speaking more precisely, they are the best equipped for these processes. For the time being, the results of both processes culminate in the age group of 19 - 23. We may deduce that the phenomena which saturate both indexes have appeared in Czech society to a substantial degree in the last few years. The implementation of these phenomena is even taking place throughout the entire age groupof 19 - 23 years. It may be assumed that new possibilities will appear and new phenomena will come into being and, in addition, young people at an age which now equals the peak of the said processes will be growing older. All this means that the high degree of globalisation and Europisation of the Czech population will extend to include even higher age groups.

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The globalisation and computerisation processes partially overlap and partially support each other and therefore their mutual relationship shown by the chart is not surprising. The level of computerisation and globalisation is expressed by the more general characteristics of a person such as educational level, creativity, sociability, progressiveness and modernity.

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In addition to the transformation of the social area, we may also observe changes in lifestyle as a consequence of computerisation. The meaning and scope of the role of traditional media in lifestyle are changing, especially in the lifestyles of young people. Book reading and newspaper reading are on the decline. The younger generation, in comparison with the middle-aged and older generation, watches television to a lesser degree. However, the young people of the present spend less time watching television even in comparison with the preceding young generation.

In addition to computerisation, other phenomena have an influence on the life of young people. There is considerable disillusionment concerning political developments, to which young people respond with low political participation in all its forms. When creating the survey project, we presumed that a part of the young generation tended to escape reality. We expected drugs to be one such escape for some groups and cyberspace and virtual reality to be the means of escape for other groups. The developments between the years 2000 and 2002 brought a new item of knowledge: the increase in drug consumption is related to the computerisation index. Does this mean that an individual who moves in "another reality" becomes addicted to the "other reality" regardless of whether it is virtual reality or a state of mind changed by a drug, and a constructed reality?

The lifestyle analysis has shown the seed of a new phenomenon. We were observing a polarity on the spectrum of computerisation and discovered a new polarity, which we called a "virtual (digital) - vital" polarity. Nature and that which is a part of nature are endowed with a vital principle. That which is virtual-digital is an artificial product of man and of the technologies created by man. Individuals with a high computerisation index in their set of personal values and in their leisure time activities tend to refrain from that which is connected to the vital principle (such as a stay in the countryside, breeding animals). Perhaps the division of sex into vital and virtual will prove to be realistic.

[1] The globalisation index consists of 31 factors: use of e-mail and conferences within: the USA, Russia, Asia, Australia, South and Central America, interest in working abroad, contact with relatives, friends and colleagues in the USA or Canada, Asia, Australia, Africa, knowledge of English, German, Russian, French, Spanish, knowledge of one additional language, knowledge of two additional languages, attitude towards globalisation. The figures obtained range from 1 to 41.
[2] The Europisation index consists of 19 factors: use of e-mail, conferences within Europe, interest in working abroad, contact with relatives, friends, colleagues in the European Union countries, in countries of the former Eastern Bloc, the rest of Europe, knowledge of English, German, Russian, French, Spanish, knowledge of one additional language, knowledge of two additional languages. The figures obtained range from 0 to 38.
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