Lastminute For The Digital Divide?
Gordon Brown must have been a Monty Python fan as he keeps coming up with names that sound like they came straight out of John Cleese’s ‘Ministry of Silly Names’. How can anyone keep a straight face when Gordon Brown talks about ‘Smarter Government”?
Two other daft names from the ‘Ministry of Silly Names’ are ‘Digital Inclusion’ and ‘Digital Inclusion Champion’. “I hate the phrase ‘digital inclusion’, it is a classic government term and nobody knows what it means,” the Digital Inclusion Champion told the London Evening Standard recently.
One of the few winners from the Smarter Government report, UK Online Centres will receive a further £30 million to get another one million people online by 2012. As the £30 million was announced for UK Online Centres, proposals were published for a £30 million budget cut that will end free travel for London’s disabled and older people. More online centres but the old and disabled can't get to them.
There are already over 6,000 centres with 30,000 terminals offering free or cheap access and help. As long ago as 2003 the Oxford Internet Institute said that universal access had broadly been achieved as only 4% of Britons lack somewhere close by that they can surf the net.
If access and a level of basic skill were all that was required the digital divide would have been closed years ago. Since 1999 the government has invested well over £500m in UK Online centres but we remain as digitally divided as ever, there are even signs that the gap is widening.
Even if you gave everyone in the country a free computer and access not everyone would use it. When recycled computers were given free to a deprived Liverpool community as part of a £10m government initiative some were flogged off for a fraction of their true value.
The closing of the digital divide is far more complex than just providing access and skills. The wider use of the internet is more to do with an individuals lifestyles and interest than whether he is able to use it.
“It’s not about owning a computer, it’s about understanding the values and life advantages of being online, and until you as an individual understand what that means to you, the piece of kit/technology is irrelevant. John Fisher, CitizensOnline 2004
We need to think more carefully more imaginatively about what needs to be done to get all of the 17 million currently not going online, instead of setting smaller and smaller easy short term targets.
We possibly would never have heard of Martha lane Fox the Digital Inclusion Champion if it wasn’t for her success in founding Lastminute.com. Apart from the silly names, heading a government quango bound up in red tape and hot air must be a hell of a culture shock for her.
Lastminute.com developed through innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. Forget the technical help we have been going down that path for over a decade. Instead make it really worthwhile to go online, imaginative content with real financial incentives for the poorer and older members of our society and they will find a way.