Increased computer use and better email and web access may narrow the digital divide, although globalisation critics may detect this as a threat to local cultures and economies, a new Pew Research Center study suggests.

The globalisation survey (pdf) released Thursday by Pew Research Center said that while technology inequality between countries has lessened, an ongoing backlash threatens globalisation.

Technology plays a key role in the larger concept of globalisation, said Richard Wike, senior researcher with the Pew Global Attitudes Project. Computers and mobile phones help connect people across borders and nurture better economic integration, Wike said.

People believe free trade and free markets are good for their countries, the survey said, but it also noted that globalisation has its economic, environmental and cultural downsides. For example, people in the US and Western Europe are growing less supportive of global trade, while those in China and India approved it more as their economies grew, the survey said.

Technology plays a role in the economic integration that comes with globalisation, Wike said. "Usage of technology seems to be part of globalisation. It's part of a bigger picture," Wike said.

In 2007, computer use increased in 26 of the 35 countries surveyed, compared to 2002, with better access to email and the internet, according to the survey. Sweden topped the list with 82 per cent of its population using computers, followed by South Korea and the US, at 81 per cent and 80 per cent, respectively. Pakistan, Tanzania and Bangladesh had the least computer use, at 9 per cent, 6 per cent and 5 per cent, respectively.

The data includes computer use at work, school, home and other places.

Compared to Western Europe, the US and Canada, computer use in the poor parts of Asia and Africa grew slowly. Use jumped in Latin America, especially Brazil, where 44 per cent of the population used computers, compared to 22 per cent in 2002, Wike said.

Increased computer use has led to better internet and email access globally, the survey said. About 80 per cent of South Koreans, 79 per cent of Swedes and 78 per cent of the US population go online occasionally. The survey also revealed that newspapers continue to lose readers as online news sources gain more readers globally.

Computer ownership is growing too, with 93 per cent of South Koreans, 84 per cent of Kuwaitis and 81 per cent of Swedes owning a computer. The survey said 76 per cent of the US population owned a computer, compared to 70 per cent in 2002. Overall, computer ownership grew in 32 of 34 countries surveyed in 2007 compared to 2002.

Mobile phone ownership showed a dramatic increase globally, Wike said. In 2007, 81 per cent of the US population owned one, a 20 per cent increase compared to 2002. Russia and Nigeria saw dramatic 57 per cent and 56 per cent increases, respectively, in mobile phone ownership in 2007 compared to 2002.

The survey looked at the global spread of technology and feelings about the multiple interpretations of globalisation, including perceived threats to cultures, along with other issues, Wike said. While technology fills global communications gaps and helps integrate economies, some people worry about losing their cultures, and although they embrace free markets, they don't want economic growth at the expense of the environment, Wike said.

How much technology contributes to the backlash against globalisation "is a good question to ask," Wike said.