Tech – the great leveller or the digital divide?
Hello and welcome to issue 88 where we’ll be considering the role of tech in breaking down barriers to inclusivity. Want to get ahead? Well then, it’s time to get digital. This issue is packed with digital champions who are leveraging digital in different ways to empower – both themselves and others.
Digital skills are game changers both for individual and also for the economy itself. If we want to address the massive underutilisation of women’s skills around the world, the best thing we can possibly do it to it give them the widest possible access to digital. The ability to access information and connect with opportunities, regardless of where you happen to be geographically, brings infinite opportunities.
Digital inclusion v digital exclusion
If you want a taste of what digital exclusion feels like, switch your phone off for a day. In a hyper connected, always on, social media-fuelled world, we can sometimes feel overwhelmed. Certain holiday destinations in rural parts of the UK are proactively marketing themselves as being out of mobile signal coverage.
On the flip side of this, spare a thought for the rural businesses who can’t get decent connectivity. A rural based contact was trying to share some files with me this week. At her end it took almost an hour to upload and transfer each batch due to the lack of a decent connection. At my end in a city each batch took less than a minute each to download.
How are rural businesses supposed to compete and thrive when the playing field is anything but level?
The Digital Age
In addition to location, digital inclusion is heavily influenced by age. Whilst children and young adults have grown up not knowing anything other than the Digital Age – think how comfortable toddlers are with the intuitive nature touch screen technology – the older generation is more hesitant. Those who live in poverty face even more challenges.
According to the Good Things Foundation: “Without digital skills, those in poverty are less able to take advantage of opportunities to save money – often paying more for essential services, and having limited access to education and jobs.” This state of affairs in society is wholly unacceptable. You shouldn’t be forced to pay more because you have less? Digital skills have the power to help lift people out of poverty, so we cannot leave anyone behind.
The introduction of Universal Credit means tenants of housing associations being obliged to manage their own money and taking on responsibility for paying their own housing fees directly to the association via an online account. The poorest in society not only face financial exclusion (1.7 million people in the UK have no bank account) but if they lack digital skills they won’t be able to access their benefit entitlements.
When public sector digital services work well they save time, money and hassle, yet when they go wrong they are terrible to use. Problems can be avoided through proper testing and user experience design, but, let’s be honest, who hasn’t experience excruciatingly painful online experiences (for public or private sector services) that needn’t have occurred?
When the power of digital is used carefully and thoughtfully there is very little to beat it. In this issue we chat to Dr. Amy Holloway, user design researcher at City of York Council, who also reminds us that “you don’t have to be a super-clever coding genius to work in tech” – phew!
It’s a packed issue, full of super-thoughtful contributors. As ever, we’re nothing without them. Katie McQuaid from Amazon talks democratising retail. We learn about not for profit, open sourced diversity from Marissa Brown Shapiro of Mozilla. We hear from Limor Kessem at IBM about the growing importance of women in the global fight against cybercrime.
We hear too from Ruby Steel, one of Simon Reeve’s Big Life Fixers, who reminds us of the power of developing individual, highly bespoke products to totally transform people’s lives. So, what are you waiting for? Get digital and get creative. Who knows, you might be able to change someone’s entire life for the better, which in turn might change your life.