As the number of South Africans able to access the internet continues to rise on a daily basis, this rapid growth could play a significant role in shaping the habits and behaviours of it’s citizens. Some recent studies have suggested that the population is voracious in it’s consumption of digital media online and revealed that the majority of users rely on the internet as their primary method for seeking information, staying up-to-date on news and connecting with friends and family.
This article will examine the rising trend of internet use in South Africa by taking a look at how the infrastructure has evolved before discussing the potential impact of internet consumption on the general population.
The growth of internet usage in South Africa
The first recorded official use of the internet in the country can be traced all the way back to 1988 where three individuals managed to send a single email to Oregon, USA from a computer at Rhodes University. Throughout the early 1990s, internet access in South Africa and many other African countries was limited to a very small number of government organisations and academic institutions.
After the rollout of modern broadband internet services such as ADSL, the general population could begin to access websites and pages using reliable and fast connections. More recently, South Africa has ranked among the top three African countries for the largest number of internet users, only ranking lower than Nigeria and Egypt due to having a smaller population. As of this year, the country now has in an incredible 43.48 million internet users, which translates into a penetration rate of 72.3%.
It could be argued that the the recent expansion of mobile networks and the general availability of affordable smartphones have contributed to the remarkable numbers of South Africans browsing the internet today. Even though data in South Africa is widely considered to be expensive compared to the rest of the world, mobile providers are competing to provide the population with affordable data bundles and many businesses offer free Wi-Fi services within their establishments to assist with internet access.
The Potential Impact of Increased Internet Use
In an age where massive social media sites like TikTok and Instagram boast hundreds of millions of daily active users, it should come as no surprise that internet access has the potential to enact lasting cultural changes and shifts in behaviour across the globe. As South Africans fight feelings of hopelessness during load shedding and try to cope with a struggling economy, research has shown that the population is desperate to be online to consume media that will distract them from negative feelings.
It’s not all bad news though. Overall, the trend of internet use and consumption in South Africa can be positive if the population is able to steer its internet use in productive direction. An increase in productive internet use has the potential to uplift the population through enhanced communication and connectivity. Online sites that prioritise collaboration for charitable causes, share factual news stories and provide educational resources for students can work to provide new opportunities for economic growth.
As internet usage grows, so does entrepreneurship and innovation. A thriving online economy that allows users to stay entertained through streaming services and South African betting sites, purchase goods and services online and share opportunities can empower individuals and communities in cities and rural areas.
Efforts to expand essential infrastructure to rural communities and initiatives dedicated to improved levels of digital literacy training benefits everyone. The potential for economic upliftment through a connected country is significant as it can foster innovation and improve access to vital information. With greater access to wide audiences on social media platforms, small businesses are additionally able to reach new clients and contribute to the job market in a positive way.