Possibilities, but at what cost? – Reflections on the data from our first survey

We have completed the survey part of the DEQUAL project that charted the attitudes and perceptions of adolescents towards digitalization and both its perceived benefits and negative effects. We aimed the survey at respondents who were born in the year of 2005. This means that the group of interest is currently on the 9th grade of comprehensive school, i.e., they are about to finish the education which until this year (2021) constituted the compulsory education in Finland. Starting from 2021, it has been ruled compulsory to continue studies after finishing comprehensive school (Ministry of Education and Culture 2021). In total, we received answers from 240 respondents. Most of the respondents (n=151) lived with their both parents and the most common family size, including the respondent, was four people (n=91).

It seems that digitalization and its possibilities are well utilized among 9th-graders according to the data and the analysis conducted on it. Despite this, there are several disadvantages that are perceived by the respondents as effects of activities within the digital realms. These negative effects stem both from the digital devices and their possible prolonged use as well as the contents to which these devices allow access to. It has been noted that problems related to digital devices and services can be approached from at least two different viewpoints, namely those associated with the actual devices and the physical negative effects they impose on their users and on the other hand the contents to which these devices allow access (Kurki 2015). A common negative effect the respondents associated with the frequent use of digital devices and services was losing time to do other things, which some also recognized as resulting in lack of sleep.

A negative effect related to the actual digital services themselves was getting a sense of inadequacy, for example in relation to appearance. This could happen when comparing oneself to others who are seen online in different services. This notion could be approached from the Foucauldian theory of normalizing power (see Foucault 1998, 102–103; 2010, 68–69), which in this case can be seen to operate through online contents: young users come to understand certain things presented online as norms – something that is desirable and to which users compare themselves (see Alhanen 2007, 143–148). Therefore, it would be useful to observe those who are perceived as setting the norms and ask: what kind of norms they posit and whose interests they advance by doing so? Focusing scrutiny to these questions could also allow us to see how biopolitics (to which normalizing power is linked) has increasingly shifted from the state to economy and actors operating in the market sphere (Helén 2016, 176–177).

Analyzing the data that we have collected shows that the lack of equipment allowing access to digital services is not a common factor that is perceived by the respondents as hindering their participation in digital society. Most respondents have smart phones at their disposal, as only a couple of them either have no phone at all or have a phone that is not considered a smart phone. Having a computer or a tablet is not as common as having a smartphone, but despite this difference in proportions, computers are used by at least half of the respondents. Answers to the question of what digital services or devices the respondents would like to have were focused on services that provide entertainment, such as streaming services for music or movies. Common answers to the question of what digital devices respondents would like to use but are not able to do so were computers and smart watches, each of which were mentioned about 10 times. In some answers where computers were mentioned, the respondent wrote of a need for a computer that would be powerful enough for playing games. What this could indicate is that the lack of devices is not a significant obstacle encountered by young students. In addition, the ability to use digital devices and services does not seem to be a big obstacle among respondents. This notion can in part be seen in academic research on digitalization and digital inclusion, where the focus around the concept of “digital divide” has shifted from examining the access to digital services and devices to reviewing more complex relations of digital realms and social lives of people, although it is still important to consider these previously mentioned aspects of digital divide as well, because they constitute the basis for digital participation (see Hänninen et al. 2021, 19).

Digital services were regarded as having many possibilities. Keeping contact to friends and family was a common use for digital services, and many a respondent stated making new friends online as a benefit of these services. This reflects the possibilities for even larger social networks that digital services provide, but at the same time the negative effects of digitalization should also be kept in mind for not let the digitalization take the leading role as a discourse that is self-evident and is not based on the description of the actual nature of the object (digitalization) – rather, the discourse represents its object as a certain kind of entity (Alhanen 2007, 64–66). The representation of the object within a discourse can then be used as an argument for social action and reforms. It is therefore important to be sensitive to notice the discourses surrounding digitalization, because digital services also provide platforms for malevolent conduct, of which examples were given by respondents who recognized having faced online harassment or having seen content they perceived as harmful.

A discourse which presents digitalized society as an ideal towards which we should aim at transforming our lives should not be taken as a self-evident truth as it can conceal the difficulties associated with digitalization (see Hänninen et al. 2021, 30–31). Acknowledging these difficulties as a part of digital imaginaries could ease the disadvantages brought fort along digital transformations and furthermore could prove useful in an attempt to better claim the utilities that digital services can potentially have. Our collected data shows that digitalization has a lot of potential for enriching people’s lives, but along with advancing digitalization should also come a critical attitude that enables us to see the pitfalls that may lay ahead in a world turning digital.


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  • Foucault, Michel (1998). Seksuaalisuuden historia. Translated by Kaisa Sivenius. Helsinki: Gaudeamus.
  • Foucault, Michel (2010). Turvallisuus, alue, väestö. Hallinnallisuuden historia. Collège de Francen luennot 1977–1978. Translated by Antti Paakkari. Helsinki: Tutkijaliitto.
  • Helén, Ilpo (2016). Elämän politiikat. Yhteiskuntatutkimus Foucault’n jälkeen. Helsinki: Tutkijaliitto.
  • Hänninen, Riitta, Karhinen, Joonas, Korpela, Viivi, Pajula, Laura, Pihlajamaa, Olli, Merisalo, Maria, Kuusisto, Olli, Taipale, Sakari, Kääriäinen, Jukka & Wilska, Terhi-Anna (2021). Digiosallisuuden käsite ja keskeiset osa-alueet. Digiosallisuus Suomessa -hankkeen väliraportti. Helsinki: Valtioneuvoston kanslia.
  • Kurki, Janne (2015). Nykymedia, lapsi ja perhe. In: Kristiina Brunila, Jussi Onnismaa & Heikki Pasanen (eds.) Koko elämä töihin. Koulutus tietokykykapitalismissa. Tampere: Vastapaino, 231–244.
  • Ministry of Education and Culture (2021) Oppivelvollisuuden laajentamista koskeva laki vahvistettiin, hakeutumisvelvoite voimaan jo 1.1.2021. https://minedu.fi/-/oppivelvollisuuden-laajentamista-koskeva-laki-vahvistettiin-hakeutumisvelvoite-voimaan-jo-1.1.2021 Last accessed 05/18/2021.

Lauri Juutilainen

May I introduce: Seela in the Digiland PART III: Growing up as a digital native: Comfort in diversities

The biggest thought in interviews with Seela – a digital native – was about diversities and how they help us to grow up as open-minded, inclusive persons. At Seela’s age, growing up in a multinational and multi-confessional Province of Vojvodina was my biggest profit. Still, this “multiness” was not enough to understand the value of acceptance. Those who raised me had their values rooted in tradition and patriarchy. Today, Seela’s globally orienting generation can be far beyond with acceptance, tolerance, and solidarity. Is it possible that the digital era has given her generation space to grow as individuals – unchaining them from traditional and analogical living?

How many applications you are using for daily life?

Bank is always the most important thing if you want to know your situation. Then for communicating with people, SnapChat and WhatsApp for family members. If you want to be in a contact with them. Anything that is on a smartphone is modern in my opinion. And then my alarm is there. If I need to remember something or just wake up, it is on my phone. And weather …and camera of course. It is always around. And yes, my blood glucose. I can measure it with my phone. I have type I diabetes. Now I can use my phone, need to get flex [flexible] with it. Everybody is like: “What is that? I want to have it.” It has more options there than at the regular blood glucose measure. Usually you do it with needles yourself. With the phone, you don’t have to do anything. You just wipe it. This is how I can measure my insulin things a little easier. I can see all the graphs when they go down or up. I can see the specific time of a day when it is usually low or high. I can change manually the insulin system in my palm. Because it is individual thing and I can change it by looking at my phone. It gives me the graphs.

 In your phone you are using apps to communicate with your friends. Which apps are you using to communicate? Do you phone more often or write?

 If the person is close to you, you can call or text with WhatsApp or with a similar app, but no one is using those with multiple people. The SnapChat is the most common one then. I personally don’t like the app but because I want to get in contact with people, I must have it. Instagram is an option, but it is more for the people you don’t know at all. Maybe you see someone very cool, a person that you want to know, and you send a private message and say: “Wow, you seem like a very nice person. I would like to know you.” Maybe you see a SnapChat from there and start talking. I’ve heard so many people done it. You can call SC, you can send the message and the picture with it. You can do basically anything. It is funny because it has filters. You can search any filter that you want. It might be a picture of a dog or a dog face or whatever you want. That’s the big part of the app. It is a fun way of contacting people.

What social media are you mostly using to present yourself? To show some stuff or your regular dog walks? You are doing diving and having a mermaid character. What about your fellows, are they supportive? Are you visible with this identity or? How do you call it?

 I think for representing style is Instagram. To present your casual life and what are you just doing is SnapChat, too. There are stories that you film about your life. All your friends and others who follow you there – they will all see it. But you can also send things privately. There are live forms there where you can have a group chat. This is more for the casual things but Instagram you use if you want to show how do you dress and how you want to be seen.

My hobby [mermaid diving, sharing diving videos] is not a usual thing. It is interesting because earlier people sometimes talked to me: “This is really weird, this is childish, this is nah”. Kids can say such things if you are not like everybody else. This was a reaction of some, but my friends have been supportive. It was very cool, and I didn’t really care if people said something bad about me. Then I got to know more people around. They didn’t say those things anymore. And really cool people got the interest about it. Maybe got impressed even. Maybe I sound a bit selfish, but I am more respected now. I am not hiding anything. And I am still nice to everyone and everybody is nice to me. Maybe too much sometimes but I think it is rewarded. There are no age limits or gender limits in my hobby. I went to Belgium to a convention of mermaids. And if you can imagine all those people, no one looks the same as someone else. Here when you look around maybe people are just a people but there everyone are themselves and it is really cool. I think I will do that again.

You became visible in Instagram. I’ve noticed that many people are following your character. Can you tell a bit about being world-widely connected? Was it a relief when you realized there are so many same kinds of people?

I was happy to meet more people around the world, how they like to do the things they do. And because I am the first teacher of this mermaid diving here in this city. Even adults asked me: “Can you teach us also, we want to learn to those things, it seems cool?” It was the best job I have ever done. My Instagram account is called Mermaid Selenia, this is my artist name. This is how I represent myself. Almost everyone who has this hobby, or a job, has the name for the character. You don’t want to mix it with the real world. People might start to call you with your mermaid name added in it. People did it to me. I was like, please don’t do that because this is not everything about me, that I do.

I love my videos because I have a professional underwater photographer doing this with me. It was maybe the best experience of my life so far. I think it was something different for him also because he is doing professional underwater shooting. Next summer I think I’m going to do more of these things again. It is fun to look back in time and see how you have progressed.

When you search for some community online with a need of belonging, for example, to your mermaid community, do you find it?

You can belong to every community existing out there by just commenting their activities or telling your story. And when you start sharing more information, maybe a picture of yourself, it can connect you to people who are not actually socializing so much. And people can see you, but you don’t have to respond. It is sometimes unnecessary to comment something. It can just make someone feel a bad emotion. I used to respond to mean comments before, but I realized maybe this is not the best thing to do. They might think I gain some emotion. When you get used to it you don’t think about it anymore. You just see it as a useless thing. I don’t really read all the comments.

Social media can start the fires and put them down. Does it disturb your generation? Is there any politics or rules you have for online space?

I think if it does influence on some other people I might pop in and comment like “this is not what you have to say here”. It can be insulting. Even sometimes in a real life I have to say to someone “this is not ok to say”. There is not much you can do, you can just be quiet and do nothing, it is easier than to say something hateful. It is not going to make anything any better. It is the same with the comments. If you say something phobic towards someone, I still will say something about it. Too many times I need to say this to other people. Maybe they realized it, maybe not, maybe one day they will get it. If I can affect someone’s opinion positively, I want to try and do.

Now I am curious to ask about – beyond – education. Gaining knowledge digitally and surfing for the information, how much is allowed now for you? Have you ever ended up into somewhere where is the stuff you don’t want to see?

I think it is possible. I haven’t personally ended up there. I’ve heard people getting viruses by going to untrusted websites and seeing nasty pictures if they search health things for example. There is always the risk, at least for the virus. We can choose from any site that is possible for our studies. And there is always more and more. This is why we can get tired really badly. When you have so much to surf, of course, you have more information. We are expected to know more, maybe they expect us to be professionals in the subject, not only trying to get us through the course. It is frustrating sometimes. And we get worst grades than we should. But I think it is nice to have more information. If you are really interested in something you can get things very easily from the internet.

Can you imagine one day without your phone? From awakening through the day?

Wait, I would probably go back in time, to do something that I have never done. I would probably knock my friend’s doors and ask: “Can you come out?” Then I go to the next one, cycling like ten kilometres. Ok, this is probably if I want to be in contact, I will do that. Of course, I must have my blood glucose measure and a clock for the alarm. Or my mom, she can wake me up because I still live with her. I don’t know, I would be pretty confused because my calendar is in my phone. I would have to check everything from the paper. And for the clock, I would always need to go to the kitchen and see what the time is, it is not in my pocket. So, it would change my daily routine pretty much. I only can imagine like ten hours without a phone when I am hiking or diving but not a day without the phone. And basic things like cooking. I usually have all my recipes in my phone. But if I don’t have them, I need to improvise. Also paying bills, couldn’t do that without a phone. Anything would be harder to do. Even that I actually lived an era without a phone. It was fun and nice, having no problems. Phone is somehow connected with it; it also will inform me about the problem.

Biljana Stankovic

May I introduce: Seela in the Digiland PART II: Digital native – behind or beyond the digitalized education?

“To understand their world, we must be willing to immerse ourselves in that world. We must embrace the new digital reality. If we can’t relate, if we don’t get it, we won’t be able to make schools relevant to the current and future needs of the digital generation.”

Ian Jukes (The founder and Executive Director of the InfoSavvy Group, an international educational consulting firm: https://infosavvy21.com/)

When the concept of education is changed it means everything else is changed. The convoy of changes goes from our challenged personal capacities trough already manifested social changes challenged by progressive technologies and economical possibilities. It is important to ask: When the concept of education is changing? Who is ready for the change first: those who need to be educated, those who provide education, or those who finance education – or maybe those who benefit economically by producing the digital infra?

Seela is a representative of a digital generation. In this second part of her narrative, she discusses the educational system that has been available for her:

For me, digital education started only in the fifth grade. It wasn’t common to use it at school before. Of course, we had those computers at school even when I was in the first grade. It was only like on brakes. We could maybe play a game there or do something. Then we started to do the presentations and books started to be on the digital form. Now it is like almost every other subject that I have digital. At least you have an option to use the actual book or pdf form. At the fifth grade we really started to learn how it works.

How the teacher presented to you this new way of learning? Did you have some previous knowledge, or did you start to learn there in the school?

Because my dad is very good in using computers, he taught me earlier so. It was like I know more about the computer then my teachers. This is common even nowadays. They don’t know what they are doing. They just thought what they must teach us, but we knew a bit more, maybe because of how much we use digital devices in our free time.

What do you think, is it because of your generation? You are progressive, and the school system needed to adopt on you and your knowledge. Or the school system did it anyways?

I can’t say it really but maybe the school system did it to be more united with the students that they are in this day, you know. Not in the past. They wanted to be more modern and give us more options. Maybe better learning, I don’t know. Sometimes I think digital books are worse than actual books. Sometimes carrying the book and open it is more motivating than always have a phone and a computer with you that you can do everything you need. It doesn’t motivate you as much. But I see why is better, for example with writing. You can easily correct mistakes or whatever you want. It is faster. They can probably teach us more because they don’t have to waste a time to write everything down first. They have already prepared dias or presentations. And they can just share it with us. We can learn it from there, we don’t have to write it down. Probably for saving time also. […] If we have a homework is it to do some project and it needs to be done in deadline, for specific date. We usually do those with computers and if we need to write something down is in the class. You don’t have to write anything at home.

Did you feel there is a switch in your education, or was it fluid for you? Have you been introduced to libraries at the beginning of your education?

I never really was a library person. I never went there if I wasn’t forced to. Now I never go there basically. No one requires me to go there. But if I want to do something at home, I usually do with my computer. I can just have everything on one page and not go true a lot of paper waste. We must pay for every book and the notebook and a pencil that we have. In high school they don’t provide us those. Nowadays they upgraded or did something with the system and next year people that come to high school, they get everything for free. We are still in older system. I was a little mad at first but then they offer online books. Now I am not too mad about it because I have an option for using online books. I have a smooth switch because still I can have a physical book. It is not only one option. If you are going to do some project with your close friend, you might go to a café or in someone’s place like yourself or the friends and do the project. But we never gather for doing the homework. I like to have my free time as my free time and school time as a school time. So, I try to balance it like that.

Do you feel that each student, your friends (not from your school only) have equal opportunity?

Yes, usually when someone is struggling, they do get the help. this is really god. They don’t let anyone just suffering in their learnings. It will be unfair if you have difficulties with reading or writing. You will get the help with that. But not every school has it equal, you know. Now we can’t get into school we want to. We must do the test to get in there at the first place. Of course, that depends on you. What opportunities you will get. I think maybe in a comprehensive school they have their bigger inequalities; you know. That could be fixed easily but somehow, they don’t do it.

And: do you think that owning an iPhone or any smartphone or a computer is possible for most of the students?

It must be. But we must purchase our own computers and it can get really expensive. The school doesn’t give us anything. I don’t know for the next year students might get their own computers for free. Now it is impossible to live without a smartphone but smartphone is not as needed as the computer. But if you don’t have a computer you don’t get to go to the school basically.

Biljana Stankovic