Saved by the Net

My day to day job involves supporting people to access the internet. For those technically savvy among you (which I am assuming is all of you, since this blog post is only accessible online) the whole ‘digital exclusion’ conversation might seem to be one big yawn, after all, why would anyone choose not to use the net? the net is life right?

Well, it may surprise you to know that 15% of adults in Wales are not online; that’s almost half a million people, whilst UK wide, that number is over six million! Whilst first judgements would be “Oh, that must be all the old people then” you would actually be wrong there.  Yes, older people do form a higher percentage of the digitally excluded, but what about people with physical and sensory disabilities? What about people with severe mental health or learning disabilities? or, how about people just leaving prison, moved to the UK from non-English speaking countries or even leaving the armed forces after a decade or two?

The most commonly cited barrier to inclusion however is fear, often as a result of stories in the news of people who have had their identities stolen, hacking, fraud, phising, scams of all descriptions and so on have built up a frightening picture of what might happen to a person online.  Then there is the fear of breaking the equipment, using public wifi, putting information out there that you cant get back and running up bills for broadband which you cant afford… the reasons are numerous and it takes patience and understanding to reassure individuals that there are ways to support and manage all their reservations – they just have to be open to trying. That’s where my job comes in.

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I don’t teach tech, I teach and advise on the barriers to inclusion and guide organisations such as Health Boards, Councils, Schools, Libraries and Charities in identifying barriers with their service users, so that they can fully participate in the online community.  To be excluded can have very serious repercussions on the daily lives of individuals, for example, many banks are closing down on the high street and so, in order to access your finances you need to be online, and reports have shown that 49% of men are most likely to turn to the internet for help with their finances *. GP and hospital appointment booking systems are moving online or direct you to visit their website for information; 56% of women will look for health and medical advice online and 60% will look to self-diagnose from the internet *; although this is NEVER encouraged. Prescriptions are  moving to online ordering systems, high street stores are decreasing in number and online stores are increasing.

According to BT, 89% of Government services are now online, so applying for a drivers license, passport, tax payments and benefits all need to be done online.  As for job seeking, when was the last time a potential employer asked you to bring in a handwritten CV?  If you want Jobseekers allowance payments to live on whilst you search for a job, you have to apply online or else you get no payments…  This is just a tiny snapshot of the problems faced by those not online.

Part of my job is to look for less intimidating, more fun methods of communicating the messages of internet usage and so I was intrigued when I was contacted by a PR officer on behalf of the Carphone Warehouse regarding a new take on classic films.  They have taken the dilemmas faced by the key characters in some of the world’s best known films, Psycho, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Blair Witch Project, School of Rock and Brief Encounters and gave digital solutions to their problems.  What would have happened if Marian in Psycho had just gone on Trip advisor?  What if Alec and Laura in Brief Encounters had Skyped or Snap Chatted each other? It could have been a much more interesting affair!  My favourite was Blair Witch; oh if only they had used Google Maps, it could have been a much shorter film and saved us all!

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To read the report and discover the dilemma fixers, click here

From there, the Carphone Warehouse report goes on to show how the internet could help you with your dilemmas and offer stats on what problems those people already online are using the internet for. Apparently, 44% of us use online videos to fix DIY problems whilst 40 % of us have used the internet to blag our way out of work problems (gulp, hope my boss isn’t reading this).  73% of people find it easier to approach their crushes online, although Londoners push this percentage up to 88%. I have so many friends who have met their partners online, that it is seeming to be the norm nowadays but don’t get me started on the whole ‘speaking’ term which teenagers use to describe the online first phase of any courting prior to non-dates, then actual dates, which you don’t call dates now apparently, which if I were a cool mum I would have known, apparently…. Esshh.. *tut*.

So, still think digital exclusion is a big yawn? No? Ok, so is there anything you can do to help people not on the net?  Yes. absolutely.

Organisations are always looking for digital volunteers to help out, be that in charities or libraries or hospitals.  Organisations such as Digital Communities Wales and your local Community Councils can support you with training and volunteer placements. They would love it if you got in touch!

At home though, when a friend or family member shows an interest in what you are doing on your tablet or smartphone, show them what it is capable of and invite them to try for themselves.

NEVER take the device away from them and perform a function, instead, talk them through it and allow them to learn for themselves.

ALWAYS encourage them and reassure them that they are doing fine and that they will be able to do this themselves with practice.

NEVER hurry them or use negative words or body language; yes, we know you could have googled the answer twenty minutes ago, but that’s not the point.

ALWAYS show how to use a device or online tool safely, using passwords and looking for the locked padlock in search bars for example.

NEVER show multiple ways of doing one thing online, just stick to the basics for now.

Happy googling peeps.

For further information on the Welsh Government’s digital inclusion strategy

For further information on the NHS’s digital inclusion strategy

* Statistics based on a report from Carphone Warehouse based on respondents of their survey – apart from *tut* obviously, that was based on my daughters attitude.


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