• Portrait Prof. Dr. Anabel Ternès von Hattburg, SRH Berlin

    Getting on Board with Digitality

Recent years have seen an increasing digital divide between different population groups. This gap is formed between people who have access to and use digital information and communication technology and those who are deprived of access or consciously choose to avoid it. The result is a pronounced knowledge rift and different social and economic development opportunities. In her guest contribution, Brain City Ambassador Prof. Dr Anabel Ternès von Hattburg describes the reasons for this development in Germany, the effects on society and explains why digital skills are so important. 

Since 2012, Dr Anabel Ternès von Hattburg has been a Professor for International Business Administration at the SRH Berlin University of Applied Sciences. Her research focusses on the effects of digitalisation and globalisation on society and health. Prior to joining the SRH Berlin, she worked in the area of business development on an international level. 

Digitality describes the communication and connection between people and objects in the digital environment using digital media and technology. Digitality focusses on social and cultural practices and distances itself from digital technological developments and digital transformation. The reasons why people do not have access to digitality or do not utilise it are diverse:

  • Age gap: A clear divide exists between different age groups both in terms of usage and acceptance of the internet and modern devices such as smartphones or tablets. While today’s generation of students are so-called digital natives who have grown up in the digital world and use it intuitively, only around ten percent of older people - such as those who have been retired for several years - feel comfortable in the digital world. A large proportion of this age group rejects modern media: Reports of risk and crime, general reservations or fear of contact or an overwhelming feeling that everything is too complicated can lead to rejection by an individual and society.
  • Broadband gap: Nowadays, constitutional law considers the data highway as a basic living condition to which everyone should have equal rights, similar to public transport and choice of schools. The comprehensive deployment of broadband in Germany remains an ongoing process where equal availability nationwide does not yet exist.
  • Income gap: The digital gap between rich and poor varies greatly depending on household income. In recent years, certain European countries have provided free laptops for low-income families. For example, in January 2021 the Austrian government promised a laptop or tablet for all 10 and 11-year-old students and purchased 130,000 devices for this scheme.

It should also be mentioned here that some people are not open to the idea of a digital world. Education on this matter is therefore essential to provide clarification. After all, the social and economical opportunities for growth are significantly better for those who have access to and utilise the digital world. However, a small group of our society is consciously choosing not to utilise the digital world. This could be due to bad experiences, for example.

Involvement in modern society is difficult without access to digitality

A lack of media skills can result in both economic and social disadvantages. Although access to the digital world isn’t essential, the internet provides support in many areas of life and can significantly help make things easier. In Germany, nationwide initiatives such as the Stiftung Digitale Chancen (Digital Opportunities Foundation) were developed to reduce the digital divide.

The use of digital content and new media gives older people in particular a means of staying active, informed and up to date. Emails, messenger, social networks, meeting sites and partner agencies help stay in touch with family and friends online or even make new contacts. This requires little effort and is not restricted by location. Access to the digital world can keep older people more active and positively impact their quality of life.

In this day and age, searching online for information has become a primary means of obtaining knowledge. Sources online range from Wikipedia, which replaces the encyclopaedia, to holiday travel that can be researched and booked online; health portals offer information and support for self-help. All this is just a mouse click away for those with access to digitality and involves far less time and effort than in the ‘good old’ analogue world.

For example, without access to digitality, it is not possible to enjoy the benefits of conveniently ordering items online, away from the crowds, whenever you like. Internet shops now offer a wide range of products with easy delivery to our homes. Product tests are available online and offer a good means of comparison. 

Bank accounts can also be securely and efficiently accessed online at any time. Bank opening hours are a thing of the past. The entertainment options online are diverse, from newspapers and radio broadcasts to watching films and series and playing video games alone or with others. 

Parents without access to the digital world and no knowledge of it are faced with the dilemma of their children wanting to use it. Without any knowledge of digital media, parents aren’t able to set realistic rules or act as a role model. Without digital access, they are also unable to openly discuss the risks of social networks with their children. They can only control how their children consume media by developing their media skills early on. This requires the relevant digital skills.

Finally, the modern job market has largely moved online and into the digital world in recent years. If job seekers don’t have access to internet job portals or are unable to apply digitally, their chance of getting a job is dramatically reduced. The COVID pandemic has significantly accelerated this trend.

In summary, it can be stated that people without access to digital content cannot benefit from the aforementioned opportunities. They are tied to their local environment and its limited offers and only have limited social communication.

Cornerstones of digital education

Education services for providing digital education must meet certain conditions in order to function in practice:

  • They must be tailored to specific target groups. On the one hand, this means that the chosen media format and nature of the content must appeal to and reach a certain target group. One example of this is short runs of print brochures for older people who have had no prior link to digital media in the past, or an informational event held at a school with open discussion and experience exchange among parents and guardians.
  • They must be sustainable and should convey concepts and principles that are applicable in the long term. Practical and recent examples are important to help participants get to grips with their current situation.
  • They should not only cover the risks but also contain recommendations for action with regard to threats such as cybermobbing or stalking. They should contain information about preventing cybercrime as a precaution. 

A key aspect of digital education is the willingness to actively use digital media and help oneself. If people feel unsafe or overwhelmed then they should - as they would in real life - simply ask their friends, children, grandchildren or look on the internet itself. Assistance is also available in many adult education centres, libraries and internet clubs. Other users share their experiences and give recommendations in online forums. Mobile and internet providers have internet advisors who can also advise on risks such as addictive behaviour and cybercrime.

Importance of digital skills

Digital media skills have become so important as these give us the tools to act with confidence and make the right decisions in the digital realm. In addition to technical skills, a digital skillset also means the ability to use digital media in a conscientious and competent manner. Finally, digital skills are essential key qualifications required to participate in modern society. Consciously and responsibly handling data and the ability to critically assess sources of information are now basic skills similar to reading, writing and calculating. 

Work and research on the topic

Establishing future-oriented, long-term access to digital content is not easy. The social organisation ‘GetYourWings’ founded by myself in 2016 focusses on developing and implementing sustainable concepts for young people nationwide. It aims to show students as young as primary school age how they can shape the future by responsibly and professionally using digital tools in a meaningful way. My research activity on digital sovereignty also entails the work on ‘Digital Literacy’ as well as self-efficacy and health management. Mental health and strength - the process of salutogenesis - is an important topic in this regard. 

Further literature

  • Anabel Ternès and Carina Troxler: Gesunde Digitalisierung heißt: Der Mensch steht im Mittelpunkt. In: Gesundheit – Arbeit – Prävention. Conference transcript of the 3rd congress for occupational health management. ed. SRH Fernhochschule, pp. 33 – 48, 2020
  • Anabel Ternès von Hattburg and Matthias Schäfer (ed.): Digitalpakt – was nun? Ideen und Konzepte für zukunftsorientiertes Lernen, 2020
  • Anabel Ternès von Hattburg: Wenn Digitalisierung mehr als ökonomischer Selbstzweck sein soll – Digitale Lernformate zur Optimierung individuellen lebenslangen Lernens. In: Digitale Strategien im Training. 11 Impulse für digitale Lehr- und Lernformate im Training und in der Weiterbildung. Ed. Walker, B. Offenbach: Gabal / Jünger Medien, pp. 80-89, 2020

  • Anabel Ternès von Hattburg: Faktor Menschlichkeit: Erfolgsgarant für Digital Leadership. In: Jens Nachtwei & Antonia Sureth (ed.): Sonderband Zukunft der Arbeit (Human Resources Consulting Review. Band 12). VQP. https://www.sonderbandzukunftderarbeit.de, pp. 362 – 366, 2021

  • Annekathrin  Grünberg, Arndt Pechstein, Peter Spiegel and Anabel Ternès (ed.): Future Skills. 30 Zukunftsentscheidende Kompetenzen und wie wir sie lernen können, 2021 

  • Anabel Ternès: Ferngesteuert?! Hin zur digitalen Souveränität, 2021

  • Anabel Ternès von Hattburg: 30 Minuten Digitale Souveränität, 2022

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