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Yannick Le Thiec - 22/11/2011

How much do French people understand of the digital world?

© Inria

Health, industry, transport, agriculture, communication, the environment… no field has escaped the profound impact of digital sciences and technology – inventions that are moulding the contours of a “New World” today. This daily reality, at once invisible, diverse and omnipresent, raises a fundamental question: how much do French people understand of the digital world in which they live?

Inria together with TNS SOFRES has launched a large-scale survey to find an answer to this question, and in the coming years follow the French population’s evolution with regards to this rapidly changing world.

Key points that emerged from this study

The French are receptive to this New World

French people are mostly rather confident (64%  of the people who were questioned) and curious (71% ) about the advantages, benefits and influence of digital technology in their everyday life.

Six types of digital travellers

Not all French people have the same perception of the world shaped by digital sciences. Some have already made this New World their own, while others refuse an “all-digital” lifestyle.

  • The great explorers  (18%)   Digital pioneers and always ahead of the pack, they are the first specimens of homo digitalis . Truly in possession of this New World, they move about it with ease, and are constantly looking for new places to discover.
  • The pragmatic adventurers (16%) :  They travel with speed over the territories opened up by the great explorers, following a pragmatic approach above all. Curious and open-minded, realistic about its potential, they are also aware of everything that gave structure to the “world before”, and put the emphasis on being responsible in their explorations.
  • The apprentice travellers (20%)  : They have just embarked on the ways of the New World. They are adventurous and enthusiastic, but seldom dare to venture upon unexplored paths.
  • The prudent hikers (16%)  : They know that they live in a changing world, but are cautious of the territories they are discovering and only make limited use of their own discoveries.
  • The digital recalcitrant (10%) : Watching the developments of this New World with a wary eye, they make use of new technologies, but do not like the consequences. These new places make them nostalgic and they dream of returning to the world they knew before, and all that was comfortable and familiar about it.
  • The happy home-bodies (16%)  : The digital world is far from being indispensable to them. They seldom if ever encounter it in their daily existence, and make no effort to be informed of developments in this field. Yet, they are not opposed to development and are willing to alter their judgement if faced with concrete examples of use.

Do our test to find out in which group you belong >> (in French)

An influence seen as positive for the individual and those around him

Innovations that have become indispensable in everyday life
In reply to the question: “Are there innovations that have changed your life and without which you can no longer get by?” most French people answered “yes”, with regards to their personal facilities:

  • 59% can no longer get by without their mobile telephone,
  • 56% without the Internet,
  • 52% without search engines,
  • 51% without their personal computer.

Beneficial to personal development
As far as individual fulfilment and interaction with the outside world is concerned, digital technology is seen as something beneficial:

  • 87% of French people feel that digital technology has very positive consequences regarding access to knowledge,
  • 62% regarding the possibility to satisfy their interests,
  • 56% regarding the advantages for their work.

More mixed sentiments regarding the relational aspect

  • 31% of French people regret the consequences that digital technology has on their family relationships,
  • 34% when it comes to their love life.

A fragmented view due to a real lack of information


From health to communication, digital sciences have had an impact on all areas of activity. Though French people have a positive opinion of the way digital technology affects certain sectors, they sometimes find it abstract and do not always consider it useful.

Recognised advantages considered useful in fields that are “mass-market” oriented

  • Health: for 88% of the French, digital technology is useful in healthcare.
  • Communication: 87% of the French recognise the progress made in terms of digital technology, smart objects, and communication through social networks.
  • Teaching: for 79% of French people, digital technology has become indispensable in education.
  • Transport: 75% of French people are aware of the benefits of digital sciences for instance in the field of embedded technologies on planes, cars, rockets or trains.

A less clear view of other areas where this technology is nevertheless very useful

  • The environment: only 16% of the French consider digital technology to be very useful in this field
  • Agriculture:  more than 26% of French people think that digital technology is of little or no use in this field

Agriculture and digital technology…

A variety of equipment used in agriculture today is equipped with digital sensors. For example, those installed in stables to monitor cows that are about to calve, and that are linked up to the farmer’s television screen or digital tablet. Or humidity sensors built into a silage cutter that precisely measure the percentage of dry matter in maize, as an indicator of the quality of conservation of fodder. Finally, yield meters can be found on harvesters, or inclination meters to correct the vehicle’s steering system on a slope.

Progress that too often remains unknown…
Although 59% of French people describe themselves as well informed, progress in terms of digital technology still seems to lack visibility.

  • 55% of the French think that we shall never be able to communicate through thought.
  • 25% of the French think that a surgeon will never be able to perform an operation from a distance.
  • 25% of the French think that cars will never be able to drive on their own.

The future of digital technology?

Go further or stop everything? Opinions vary between the two…
French people are hesitant and somewhat divided when it comes to the question of “developing digital technologies”, with:

  • 43% of them considering that things are fine they way they are today,
  • 32% thinking that we should go much further still,
  • 16% feeling that we’ve already gone too far.

Important issues at stake
While 80% of all French people are in favour of giving as many people as possible access to digital technologies, they are concerned about the impact, especially on their private lives.

  • 92% feel that it is important that privacy should be more protected on the Internet.
  • 89% consider it necessary to supervise children’s use of the Internet.
  • 74% wish to see a code of ethics or conduct put in place, particularly in fields such as robotics and bioinformatics.

 Lastly, 80% of them consider it worthwhile and necessary to make room for digital sciences at school, giving it the same importance as chemistry of physics. A first step is being made in this direction with the introduction of a “computer and digital science” option in high school as from 2012…

The "New Digital World"

Through its research and relationships with the industrial sector, Inria participates in the development of the New Digital World. It thus wants to further the public debate on societal issues related to digital technologies and provide “travellers of the digital world” with the right tools to tackle these new horizons.

Keywords: Survey Digital sciences Opinion and use of digital technology TNS Sofres France Inter TF1 Metro Digital equipment of the French Digital developments and inventions