Sixty per cent of young people in Serbia use the internet, with 45 per cent of them using it on a regular basis, show results of the annual Youth and New Media 2012 survey carried out by Irex Serbia and Ipsos, released in December last year.
The use of smart phones is on the rise, and for the generation aged between 12 to 29, the internet primarily means social networking. Sixty-eight per cent of the young people (and 40 per cent of the overall population) have a Facebook account; while among the young, 12 per cent have a Twitter account. Eighty-four per cent of young people browse the internet, 78 per cent read online news, and 65 per cent access social networks. According to the survey, there has been a drop in the number of young people getting their information from television (66 per cent) compared to 2009 (77 per cent), with the profile of the average internet user being male, finishing higher education, and living in an urban setting.
A research paper entitled Media Use Among Young People in Serbia published earlier last year, demonstrated that although new media emerges at a relatively low cost, and although its spread happens extremely quickly, there is a part of the population which still remains outside the sphere of its influence. Young people in Serbia are not equally informed, nor are they equally interested in issues which imply social and political participation.
The characteristics of the younger population excluded from the internet sphere is quite similar to that of their counterparts elsewhere in Europe, and is often related to a lower level of education and income, as well as to living in rural areas. Any specific characteristics of the position of young people in Serbia, the research concludes, could be viewed as a consequence of the late inclusion in the processes of social and political transformation; therefore, the availability of new media is much lower than it is in the European Union and the region as a whole, while the differences within the community are more pronounced.
A survey carried out in 2012 by the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia using Eurostat methodology shows that Serbia lags behind the EU considerably when it comes to internet usage, and in particular broadband internet. In Serbia, 47.5 per cent of households have an internet connection, while only 38 per cent have broadband. By contrast, 75 per cent of households in the EU are digitally connected, with 72 per cent having broadband internet at home. From these figures it is clear that Serbia is technologically at the level the EU was in 2006.
Nebojša Radović, an internet activist and entrepreneur from Serbia studying international marketing at Hult International Business School in San Francisco, talking about his digital experiences on the two continents, says that internet usage becomes more layered when seen from a perspective which goes beyond pure statistical data.
Radović ran his own digital marketing agency in Serbia and worked for the Serbian Eurovision Song Contest delegation in 2012, building its online presence and communication strategy. He also worked on developing a digital platform called Internet Republika, designed for young people wishing to actively participate in diverse social initiatives. The project was carried out in cooperation with the SHARE conference, an international conference held annually in Belgrade, dealing with digital media, technology and internet activism, accompanied by musical events.
Radović highlights that everything connected to his graduate studies is being done through an integrated platform on the internet, including lecture materials, communication, organisation of lessons and other events. Such approach to the educational process, and the fact that young Americans are much more ready to pay for content on the internet than their European counterparts, are the only differences he has noticed in the way the internet is used across the Atlantic.
“It is fascinating to see how people are becoming globally similar thanks to technology. This also means that we all have an equal opportunity when it comes to international business, and we should use the internet to put together the best features of the ‘two worlds’ – Serbian hedonism and the global market – which is now easily accessible,” Radović says.
Having in mind the perils of a digital divide, it is now up to the Serbian authorities to facilitate a more rapid expansion of attainable broadband internet in the country (both for young people and its citizens), and to encourage the use of digital technology in education, public administration and business. As experience has shown, entertainment content will find their way to users much more easily.
Larisa Ranković is media researcher, consultant and freelance journalist from Belgrade, Serbia. She is also working on PhD thesis about community media.