Formal and substantial Internet information skills: The role of socio-demographic differences on the possession of different components of digital literacy

Marco Gui


The literature about digital inequality has pointed out the role of so-called "digital skills" in contributing to a full exploitation of the opportunities of the Web for individuals. Research has started to measure the differences in online skills on a socio-demographic base, finding relevant disparities. Since different components of digital skills have been described in theory, it is not clear which of them are influenced by specific social variables and which are not. This study goes a step further in the analysis of "digital skills," concentrating on two different components of them: "formal information skills" and "substantial information skills." Complex search tasks were assigned to a quota sample made up of young people in northern Italy, divided by gender and education level. The results show that when other important variables associated with digital skills (age, experience with the Web, availability of hardware and software) are kept constant differences in gender and education have an influence on substantial information skills, but not on formal ones. This provides evidence for the assumption that a substantial part of digital skills represent a socially relevant factor for digital inequality, even when education and the spread of new media have standardized the level of formal skills.

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