Digimeter - Digital sprint exhausted Flemings

(09-03-2023) In 2021 the digimeter noticed an accelerated digitization and increased techno-optimism among Flemings. In 2022, the relationship between people and digital technology cooled down due to growing concerns about dependence, fake news, and privacy.

Just after the corona crisis, the imec.digimeter observed an accelerated digitization and increased techno-optimism among the Flemish: there has never been more online shopping, teleworking and banking. In 2022, the relationship between people and digital technology will cool down again due to growing concerns about dependence, fake news, and privacy. Although the digital divide still exists, it is changing. For many Flemish people, the issue is no longer a lack of access to digital technology, but a lack of digital skills and the right attitudes towards technology. This shift is also noticeable among younger people. 

From techno-optimism to mixed feelings 

digimeter-2022 smartphone dependencyAfter the waves of COVID-19, 2022 also proved to bring about a normalization in the digital realm. The average time spent on our smartphones per day does not increase further and even drops slightly by 3 minutes (to 185 minutes). Furthermore, it appears that the naivety with which many Flemish people initially embraced digital technology and services is fading. Concerns are growing around smartphone dependency, fake news, and privacy. 

Growing smartphone dependency 

  • 40% of Flemish people call themselves smartphone dependent (7 percentage points more than with the previous imec.digimeter). 
  • 36% indicate that they spend too much time on the smartphone. 
  • 27% even call themselves addicted (5 percentage points more than last year). 

It prompts 88 percent of Flemish people to impose at least one rule on themselves to keep their smartphone usage in check, such as turning off notifications and alerts from certain apps. Especially in times where remote working becomes normalized, the need to help guard boundaries between on- and offline and between work and personal life is growing. 

More awareness and concern about information and data online 

Three out of four Flemish people are concerned about the impact of disinformation on society, and that group has grown since last year (+5 percentage points). Paradoxically, the number of people who take active steps to verify the accuracy of news themselves has decreased to 49% (-3). Furthermore, over 7 out of 10 Flemish people received fraudulent messages (phishing) in 2022. 77% (+3) therefore thinks twice before clicking on a hyperlink. 

For handling financial matters such as banking and tax returns, the digital approach has become the 'new normal' for 3 out of 4 Flemish people. At the same time, citizens are concerned about sharing their data. A growing group is consciously handling their data: 93% implement at least one privacy-protective rule, 30% (+3) is only willing to share data if there is a clear benefit and if they trust the partner. In terms of health, there is little enthusiasm for sharing data from apps and wearables, but their own hospital remains a trusted party. 


With the establishment of the data utility company and FTI Flanders, Flanders is stepping up its digital game. It is a good idea to combine the strengths of government, research institutions, and businesses to put our region on the digital map. However, this imec.digimeter is a reminder that we must not forget the citizen and their growing concerns in this story. The key question is how we can shape the digital transformation in an inclusive manner." - Lieven De Marez, Professor of New Communication Technologies 

Digital divide refers to "being able/willing", rather than about "having"  

digimeter-2022 digital doubt99% of Flemish people have access to a device that can connect to the internet. It seems that the digital divide has become less a matter of "having" and more a matter of "being able to" and "willing to".  

However, an important caveat must be made: Flemish people with lower household incomes often have too few screens (23%) and experience financial barriers to purchasing a faster internet connection (for 1 in 3 Flemish people, the cost of better connectivity (fixed or mobile) weighs heavily on their budget). Yet the traditional digital divide seems to be shifting towards skills and attitudes.  

  • More than 4 in 10 Flemish people lack confidence in themselves to solve basic problems with technology, and there has been no improvement in this over the years.  
  • Even more worrying is that young people's confidence in basic skills is declining.  
  • 30% (+2) find terms related to digital applications confusing.  
  • The group that can talk about new technologies such as the metaverse and blockchain is very small. And that also applies to young people: almost one in three say that digital technology is moving too fast for them (+8 percentage points since last year). The myth of the younger generation as a "digital native" who automatically keeps up with the digital society has been debunked.  

The Flemish attitude towards technology remains positive: a large majority of 71% believe that technology makes our lives easier and more comfortable. However, the resurgence of techno-optimism after corona has cooled somewhat (-10 percentage points since the previous digimeter). 27% of Flemish people avoid technology (+3) and the group that has confidence in their ability to learn the necessary digital skills has decreased slightly. 

Here, education seems to have an important role: young people need to receive a basic understanding of technology, not only in STEM fields. They need to learn about and use the concepts. But distributing laptops and tablets in the classroom is not enough: students also need to learn to resist distractions and find a healthy digital balance in a world of teleworking and distance learning. - Professor Lieven De Marez 

Media use relatively stable  

Cross-media, the new normal  

The Flemish people consume media cross-medially: traditional TV programming remains a foundation, but for 60% of Flemish people, it is supplemented with extra subscriptions such as Netflix and (increasingly, especially among young people) Disney+. Interestingly, those paid streaming subscriptions are used more intensively than free online platforms available in Belgium, such as VRT MAX and VTM GO.  

The doomsday scenario for traditional TV channels, so-called 'cord cutting', in which media users say goodbye to traditional TV programming and opt only for a self-curated cocktail of online content, is stagnating at 11%. It seems that even streaming platforms are not enough to satisfy the Flemish people's TV appetite. The growth in the number of Flemish people paying for streaming (+5 to 60%) is therefore almost entirely due to the group that takes streaming in addition to their TV subscription (48%, +4). Only in the age group of 25-34 do we see the cord cutting phenomenon continuing (+5 to 29%).  

Finally, we see an increasingly strong intertwining of social media and personal brands, both as a media platform in itself (e.g., TikTok as a channel) and as a gateway to the media offerings of local players, online channel platforms, and streaming services. 

TikTok: engagement grows, reach does not  

With a market reach that remains at 16%, TikTok does not seem to become a mass medium in Flanders. However, it is noteworthy that users show much more engagement: an average of 82 minutes per day (+10 minutes compared to last year).  

The social medium BeReal shows a similar distribution pattern as TikTok did a few years ago: an exponential increase. But it yields a completely different engagement: users spend an average of less than 5 minutes per day on it. The medium is highly reactive: at any given time, the user is prompted to take a photo of their daily life and share it with a limited number of friends. Possibly, part of the success of BeReal can be explained by its response to the three major challenges that internet users are facing today: dependency (short-term daily interactions), privacy (only for a limited number of friends), and fake news (focused on the authentic). However, it remains to be seen whether this medium will outgrow its niche status. 

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