Low digital literacy and confidence often make it difficult for NIUs to fully grasp the capabilities of the smartphone and the internet. NIUs have questions about both concepts that range from the complex to the extremely fundamental. This lack of understanding prevents them from exploring on their own – mostly out of fear they might make a mistake that would “break” their phone – causing them to use only a small fraction of their phone’s functions and features. (See Navigating a smartphone).

Their questions, in fact, tell a story that reveals their concerns, preconceived notions, and other uncertainties and, at times, demonstrate how deep our own assumptions run and how wide the gap between those assumptions and the NIUs’ reality is.

Why is the phone so abstract? I like apps that use real world images and simple, natural language. By the way, what is an account?

Questions about the nature of an “account” are something we often hear from NIUs in our interactions with them. The question speaks not just to the definitions of an account but likely also to the trepidation about committing to an account or transacting with one. Accounts require personal information. Some involve financial data or complicated terms and conditions. Any of these could be why an NIU might hesitate when confronted by an account.

I know to hit the red button to hang up a call. But there’s so many new things to understand — it’s overwhelming.

Something as straightforward as a phone call can cause questions. Not so long ago, for example, phones didn’t require an “enter” operation — there was no green “call” button. Today, other “new things”' include inputting a contact on the phone, hands-free calling, and call waiting — all of which can all be a source of confusion.

I don’t explore outside of what I’m shown. I don’t know what most other apps and buttons do, so I often avoid them. Maybe what I know now is enough for me.

The concept of an “app” can also raise questions. What is it? What does it cost? How do I download it? Where is it stored? How much data does it require? And beyond all that, does an app add value to my life?

As part of a campaign we launched in 2021, we partnered with local social media influencers in NBU countries to create videos to teach NIUs how to better use their smartphones. The videos answer questions like “What is storage space?” and “What do you do when you are running out of space?” and “Are there apps that can help you free up space?” — all topics that even experienced users could afford to know more about. But the videos also provide answers to fundamental queries like “How do you use a touchscreen?” and “Why do you need an email address?”

NIUs will have questions at every step along their digital journey. It’s our responsibility to address those questions with patience, respect and empathy, building their confidence and empowering them as they become experienced users, and pass their knowledge to others in turn.


Internet access is a basic human right. But the goal of providing equitable and inclusive internet access to everyone remains unmet.

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Inclusive digital design can help novice internet users grow their digital confidence.


Everybody who works in tech can help create a more inclusive, equitable internet for everyone, everywhere.

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Growth in Africa
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