As African women working with young women and girls, we realised that there was a big contrast in how we, often from the generation before universal connectedness, thought about and used the internet, compared to the young women we seek to empower. This isn’t just a gap of understanding: it can be a gap in culture. While we may see the internet and smartphones as a tool, even girls from simple backgrounds like Awino, let alone sophisticated city girls from Lagos, Nigeria or Johannesburg, see the internet and digital connectedness as something interwoven in the fabric of their existence.
You can assess how you, or one of the young women you work with, use technology by counting the number of yes and no answers in the questionnaire below. They all have either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers.
- Do you own a smartphone (e.g. iPhone or Android)?
- Do you check your phone in the first hour of the day?
- Do you use technology as a means of escape?
- Do you feel that you stay online for longer than originally intended?
- Do you feel the need to use the internet, news, games, or social media with increasing amounts of time to achieve satisfaction?
- Are you preoccupied with the news, internet, games, or social media?
- Do you feel restless, moody, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop the internet, news, games, or social media use?
- Can you stand in a queue without checking your phone?
- Do you feel the need to respond immediately to your messages?
- Do you constantly check the phone even if it does not ring or vibrate?
- Do you feel anxious when away from your device or computer?
- When driving, do you check your phone while waiting in traffic?
- Do you check your phone during meals?
- Do you feel panicky and anxious if you don’t have your phone on you or if the battery is dead?
- Since you first looked at this worksheet, have you at any point stopped to check news, emails, social media, or text messages?
- Do you check news, emails, social media, or text messages while on the toilet?
- Have you ever checked the news, emails, social media, or text messages in bed?
- Do you check your phone just before going to sleep?
- Do you ever get up at night to use free or cheap internet?
- Has anyone ever told you that you’re online or on your phone too much?
What is the final total score? For you and for her? Let’s focus on yours. It’s easy to feel smug if we have a low score, and it’s great if you can keep your phone at arm’s length for much of the time, but this does have its downsides. If you are not a regular phone user, you will struggle to understand young women, who see it as the portal to their friends, knowledge and entertainment. If you find yourself (like many of us) with a higher score than you care to admit, you are in good company. In battling our own tech addiction, we will understand how hard it is for young people. It’s worth leading by example here, seeking to find the balance that suits us in the circumstances we are in.
Supporting Young Women to Manage Digital
Once finished and if necessary, discuss what actions could be made to have more tech-free time. It’s important not to see this as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. We know that it’s good to have tech-free time, and not good to be looking at screens all day, or wasting time, especially when we know we would rather be doing something else, but feel glued to our tech. When you work with a young woman to help her to identify her goals, and the things holding her back, time management is always an important part of that.
Rather than telling a girl that her use of tech is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, can you use this as an opportunity to discuss? It might be that her parents expect her to always have her phone with her, so they can check she is safe, and that they expect her to answer so they don’t worry. It could be that she needs to get up in the middle of the night to use the free internet because otherwise she cannot afford to download the information she needs for her studies.