After two years of pandemic, The New Tech Economy, citing many of us as glancing at our smartphones upwards of 55 times a day, also finds increasing numbers of people wanting to move away from them.
Before the pandemic most of us made use of digital devices in a range of ways to enhance, streamline and connect our lives. Whether our professional or personal lives, the developed west is in the grips of the tech revolution. History will judge us as at the dawn of this revolution and no doubt laugh at our mistakes and lack of self-awareness of the harms, benefits and unknowns. 47% of people in the US feel ‘addicted’ to their phones and many of us are increasingly making changes to our relationship with them.
We have most taken for granted the privilege of being device early-adopters, with access to the whole world in our palms. When Covid19 hit many more of us became aware of what digital exclusion meant. Never has so much been written about the importance of tech, staying connected, e-commerce, Zoom quizzes and the negative health impacts too. To say nothing of the impact on the planet, a picture is emerging of a link between device usage and relationship issues, quality of sleep, our ability to switch off and relax and concentration levels. And yet, whether we worked in retail, restaurants, healthcare, housing or the local council, digital inclusion is no longer a niche conversation for the VCSE (voluntary, community and social enterprise) sector.
At Your Own Place, aware of the barriers many people face to being connected online and not just within the homeless population, it felt both inevitable and cruel to be asking everyone to hop online more. Our values were tested. As an organisation that believes people are best off making their own decisions most of the time, there was a tension between wanting to reach people with the only tools we had, a respect for their decisions and the isolation and desperate loneliness for those unconnected through no fault of their own. Whilst many of us know people who died of Covid, we also know people who killed themselves or tried.
As we embrace the ‘new normal’, for many of us in business, digital access remains as important today as at the height of the pandemic. At Your Own Place CIC, as was well-reported in our sector during the pandemic, we learnt that a digital offer reached people that a face to face one wouldn’t. The reverse remains true also and for this reason digital now forms part of our permanent business model. Digital exclusion and self-exclusion remain a massive challenge and I commend the team’s efforts in not just recognising the nuance of exclusion (it goes way beyond access to a device), but acknowledging that addressing that exclusion is an opportunity to build a relationship and build empathy.
So whilst we extend energy continuing to figure what to do with donated devices that can’t install Zoom (!), have no plugs, won’t charge, won’t turn on, how to transport devices across the region within budget to people with no WiFi and whether we have lost people to Zoom that would have benefitted from face to face, digital inclusion must remain a choice, but one where the consequences of that choice are conveyed and understood.