Information and communications technologies (ICTs) have transformed the lives of many people around the world, yet billions remain unconnected. While many initiatives attempt to “connect the unconnected,” initiatives focused on access and skills-development alone will still fall short. Based on the authors’ experience with the SolarSPELL initiative, this study aims to propose using the concept of socio-technical awareness as a step forward in conceptualizing a more accurate picture of capabilities necessary to enable people to make meaningful use of the internet.
This paper uses an integrative literature review for the ideas related to the digital divide, digital inclusion and digital literacies, as well as the applied work of the authors in the SolarSPELL initiative, to develop the concept of socio-technical awareness, which is presented as a method for understanding empowered, meaningful internet use.
The argument is made that access, skills- and literacy-development are necessary but insufficient conditions for meaningful ICTs use. Accordingly, a third concept, socio-technical awareness, is introduced, and the case is made for including this concept in both application and measurement of meaningful use of ICTs.
The design of digital inclusion initiatives should focus on increasing socio-technical awareness to empower users to make meaningful use of digital technologies.
Taking a step further than most assessments of the digital divide or digital inclusion, this study proposes that to achieve meaningful internet use, people need access, requisite skills development and socio-technical awareness, to be able to make informed, empowered decisions about ICT use.