We need to start a wide-ranging national effort to ensure that as many people as possible are brought into the digital world.
I am now the bearer of one of the most ridiculous titles in the UK: champion for digital inclusion. In case the name doesn’t immediately illuminate what I am up to, allow me to explain…
17 million people in the UK are not online. Of those, 6 million are also socially and economically disadvantaged. I believe that by not taking action to help this group learn about the web, we are rapidly creating a sub-class of people who are unable to have the same choices in their lives as those who are web literate. Importantly, many of these people are your employees.
With so many government services now delivered online, you are at an acute disadvantage if you can’t search for health information, do your CV, look up schools, do your homework or fill in your tax return via the internet. Additionally, research shows that net of the cost of the computer and connection, people using the web save £276 a year, as well as feeling 80% more confident – something that would surely benefit any employer?
I do not think it is acceptable that there is a community of people who are not enjoying the same access to information and savings as those who are more technically savvy. Why should I be better informed and have more choices in my life just because I am happy using the internet and have had the luxury of money and time to refine my skills?
Most of us strive to live in a more equal society and I strongly believe that digital skills are now part of creating equality. I recently said that you would not be able to be a proper citizen if you were not online – I think that the stakes are that high. Therefore, we now need to start a wide-ranging national effort to ensure that as many people as possible are brought into the digital world.
There are many projects around the UK working to bring technology to deprived areas. I have visited many and they have all been humbling and inspiring. The stories from people who have learnt these new digital skills are powerful tools in encouraging more people to take the plunge. The most successful initiatives seem to use peer-to-peer mentoring and training.
It is when someone like you sits down and helps that the barriers come down.
The broader reasons for the lack of take-up are well researched – affordability, accessibility, skills and motivation. Clearly as a technology becomes more entrenched, views become hardened and people take a default position that there is nothing in it for them.However, with input from both the private and public sector, there is plenty that can be done to try and help the UK become a real digital leader.
It is focusing on these solutions that my crazy title encompasses and I particularly want to try and inspire people with what to me is the magic of the content on the web. I encourage all retailers to think about how they can help.
- Martha Lane Fox is a director of Marks & Spencer and founder of Lucky Voice