[The following is a penultimate version of my introduction to the 2011 report of the World Internet Project (WIP) Poland. I recommend the report to those interested in the WIP and the diffusion and impacts of the Internet in Poland and other European nations. The full report is available at: http://badania.gazeta.pl/PressOffice/PressKit.1625.po?category_id=1759] A transcription of the discussion that took place is also available online at: http://www.slideshare.net/WHDutton/2011-discussion-of-wip-findings-on-poland
This report provides a richly detailed and reliable account of who uses the Internet in Poland, who does not, and what difference it makes for everyday life and work. It is based on high-quality data – face-to-face interviews with a probability sample of individuals that permits the authors to project to the population of Poland as a whole. It is a valuable resource for the country on its own terms, but has added value for being part of the World Internet Project (WIP). The findings can be compared with those of over 30 other nations that have joined this collaborative WIP project.
You will find in these pages that the Internet makes a difference that is truly distinctive. It is not television, or radio, or a phone, but complements all of these related communication technologies. It is not a book or a newspaper, but complements these and other information technologies. As it does, the Internet is bit by bit reshaping access to information, people, services, and technologies, such as making millions of computers around the world accessible to anyone with a personal computer or smart phone linked to the Internet. It changes how we access information, but also what we know. It changes how we communicate with people, but also with whom we communicate. These are implications that can transform everyday life and work, but also once in a lifetime decisions.
What do the people of Poland think about these changes?
You will see that the authors provide a descriptive account that does not try to prove a pre-determined point of view or either promote or undermine the Internet as an innovation. This report is crafted for the reader to draw conclusions of relevance to their own interests and questions. However, several general themes emerge from the findings of this report, and I am sure that readers will find even more as they look for patterns across the various topics explored in the following pages. But let me point to themes that you might wish to consider as you develop your own interpretation of the meanings and significance of the results.
First, Poland has clearly joined that league of nations that have widely adopted the Internet, with two-thirds of the county over the age of 14 having access to this technology. And most (three-quarters) of those with Internet access use broadband, enabling always on access. As in most other nations with widespread adoption, use is anchored primarily in the household, and through a personal computer.
Second, the jury is still out on the Internet in Poland. Coming from outside the country, and looking through the lens of this survey, it appears that the public as a whole and Internet users have a healthy skepticism towards the Internet. Many have yet to make up their minds on whether or not the Internet will improve their lives. They do not demonstrate a blind trust in the Internet, or an overly optimistic perspective on its promise. Nevertheless, most people in Poland have integrated it into their life and work and are adopting new technologies that will enhance the role of the Internet in their lives.
Thirdly, Poland needs to address many of the same issues as other nations, including concerns over digital divides. A third of the population does not have access to the Internet and those without access are disproportionately concentrated among less well to do and the older and retired public. A quarter of users still do not have access to broadband Internet services. There is also an urban-rural divide in Poland that is less pronounced than in other nations, such as the UK.
Fourthly, I sense between the numbers and statistics that Poland is on the verge of crossing a tipping point at which the public will begin to value the Internet more, and integrate this technology more fully in their lives. Internet users in Poland have a good deal of experience online, but it will take longer for the nation to have a greater store of Polish language content, and applications focused on their particular needs and interests. Already, however, younger users in Poland are more engaged in living an Internet-style of life, with more positive attitudes toward the Internet. Three-quarters of users visit social networking sites, a proportion higher than Britain and many other nations. And it is already apparent that many users are moving into the next generation of access to the Internet by adopting more devices, such as laptops and smart phones that complement the household personal computer as the central point for access and enable greater mobility.
Finally, the report shows that users are concerned about issues surrounding their freedom of expression and privacy online. It is critical that government and Internet Service Providers in Poland focus on ensuring that users trust the Internet as a space for democratic expression, open communication, and access to trusted sources of information. The continued economic and social development of Poland depends in part on the vitality of the Internet, and inappropriate or over-regulation of the Internet could undermine that vitality. Too many users believe that government and corporations watch what they do online.
Poles love television, and are wary of new information and communication technologies. They are not excited about the Internet transforming their lives. Nevertheless, the Internet is evolving in Poland in ways that will empower individual users and reach a point in the near future that will be transformative for users and the nation. As it does, issues over digital divides, the quality of the infrastructure, and regulation of the Internet will become more critical to the future of the Internet in Poland. This longitudinal study of the Internet in Poland will help the nation describe and understand these transformations and address the problems that they raise.
I urge you to use this report to develop your own perspective on the role of the Internet in Poland. It is one of the most significant technological innovations of the 21st Century and how Poland adopts, uses, and governs this new infrastructure will shape the communication power of individuals and the nation in an increasingly networked world.
William Dutton, Oxford, October 2011
In Warsaw, I was interviewed about my talk at the WIP Poland Event. My interview is available online as well as another more general WIP Poland video, which provides a nice overview of the event, primarily in Polish. It can be found here: http://www.blog.tp.pl/korporacyjny/entry/co_nowego_w_internecie
Comments or alternative perspectives on any of my points would be most welcome. Thank you.