Navigating a

Every day, about 1 million people come online for the first time.

For the vast majority of these new and novice users, their first and often only exposure to the internet will be via a mobile device, not a computer.

However, many NIUs struggle with understanding and navigating their smartphones, not knowing when to swipe, tap, long press, and pinch, for a start. In fact, for many of them, touchscreen interaction is a source of trepidation. Something we hear often from this group of users is the fear of tapping the wrong things: “What if I tap on something and something else comes? [A] fear is that [my son will] start shouting. There might be something related to his education.”

Several NIUs also expressed their fear of online transactions:

“Phones are like weapons, with a single click you could lose everything — like money — for those that don’t know how to use the phone.”

Beyond the challenges NIUs face while interacting with the technology, they also have cultural challenges to contend with. Owning a smartphone comes with a set of social preconceptions, which could influence their own behavior. For example, “everyone has it” is a common reason NIUs give for getting or wanting a smartphone and keeping up with other members of their community.

“Everyone’s child has a phone. I wanted to get it for [my son] to talk to his elder sister, or it doesn’t look good.”

On a related note, there’s a common perception that smartphones are inessential.

“Smartphones are a fashion accessory.”

“The phone is not going to give me money, so what can it do?”

This perception suggests a lack of understanding of the value the smartphone and internet can bring to their lives. On the other hand, NIUs also share their experiences when their devices grant them empowerment.

“[Before a smartphone,] I felt alone and would wait for someone to come to talk to me. Now I don’t feel lonely... I feel happy, learning a lot. I don’t want that old life.”

“My kids’ grades went up since we have access to the internet. Whenever they have a [homework] question, they ask. I’ll use YouTube for that.”

Everyone has a role to play in helping to make the value of smartphones more apparent to NIUs and to build up their digital confidence as they navigate the experience with gentle assistance. (See Designing for confidence and Teaching).

This would go a long way to clarify some of the perceptions they hold of smartphones, especially the ones that keep them back from engaging with their mobile devices and maximizing the full benefits of the internet: income opportunity, education, entertainment, and more.


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