Young people in France have given a resounding 'yes' to the Internet, removing the last cultural obstacle to the Net's take-off in the country.
A major survey published today showed that a large majority of respondents - surfers and non-surfers - believed that the Internet would "make the world a better place" and that "the coming Internet society represents individual freedom in a world that is more open and connected".
The survey, commissioned by telecomms operator France Telecom, showed that the nation's young are ahead of the government when it comes to adopting the Internet. The government has often adopted a go-slow policy at home and in international forums on question of ecommerce, encryption and domain names.
Despite a burst of activity this year, France remains far behind the other two major European economies, Germany and the UK, in Internet use.
The view in French intellectual circles, that the Internet was a tool of US domination, has given way to enthusiasm about the Net's role in opening up an often secretive society.
France Telecom said today that its aim with the survey of 1,000 young people between 18 and 25 was to explore "key sociological aspects of the Internet. The results reveal several previously unrecognised aspects, including the fact that there is no discernible difference between the views of young Net surfers and non-surfers. All believe that Internet will quickly take off in France and be used by most people," said the company.
At the moment, there are just over one million French people paying for Internet access, although the number of users is estimated to be three times higher. Germany leads in Europe with close to five million connected users. Britain has just over two million.
Dataquest recently estimated that France could leapfrog the others and move to ten million users by 2002. This explosion would emulate that in mobile phone use in France.
Seventy per cent of the young people polled were "enthusiastic" about the Net. A similar percentage of non-surfers said they were willing to try the Net. A higher proportion - 75 per cent - said the Net made the world a better place.
Key findings - 94 per cent think Internet will create a society that is more open to the world; 88 per cent believe it will foster communications among French people, 59 per cent think it will lead to a freer world and 56 per cent to more individualistic society. However, a majority did not see not see the Internet as a catalyst for major social change in France.
Sonia Laser, a Dutch born Internet consultant in Paris, commented: "There is still French prudence over how deep the changes will be, but young people do see the Net as an important factor leading to a lot of changes. They think it will make France a less elitist society. Young people's main motivation is a desire for information not found in the press, not to make contacts or play games".
Eighty per cent of the people polled said they went to the Net for information on the cinema and arts. The government is trying to close France's Internet gap with its neighbors by heavy investment at school level.
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