The Digital Rage
Imagine There’s No Internet
Imagine you suffered a slight knock to the head. Don’t worry. It’s not life-threatening but you’ve temporarily lost your memory. It turns out you haven’t forgotten everything – just the knowledge of one potentially life-changing thing. That thing is how to recognise and make use of a smartphone and everything it entails.
So, no calls on the move; no internet, social media, blogging, podcasting. No taking a selfie, recording a video. No Google searches nor asking Alexa or Siri those searching questions. No updating your Facebook account nor sharing of photos on Instagram. There is just you and the “stuff” around you. Define “stuff” in any way that makes sense to you, so long as it doesn’t include a digital device of any kind.
Never too old
How would you cope in a world like this? To some, the question is simply incomprehensible, verging on the nonsensical. For others, it’s a stark reality. The information and services made available through digital platforms have become social furniture in our daily lives; so much so that we take them for granted.
This digital divide is one of the defining social issues of our time. The consequences for the digital “have nots” correlate with a whole range of debilitating outcomes like poor health and wellbeing, employability and isolation.
Imagine not being able to connect with other people. Sure, lack of access to online resources for a groundbreaking research project is no big deal. But imagine if you couldn’t even send a simple text message to a relative, friend or colleague. Are you starting to feel isolated yet? And no, you can’t send an email instead. Nor do a Skype and see the person’s face while you talk to them. Could you manage?
80,000 British households can’t access the internet
For the digitally savvy amongst us, it’s an interesting thought-experiment. Thinking about how it could feel to live for a day, a week, or month after month without access to digital technology invokes a wide spectrum of ethical issues. During the month of September, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has this year run another campaign to encourage us to do just that. Scroll Free September seeks to raise awareness of the harm over-dependence on social media and digital devices can cause to our mental health.
Connected and yet isolated
The RSPH campaign recognises that those who have access to digital services and know-how can, in reality, be at increased risk of social isolation. They may be hooked into harmful behaviour patterns and narratives which are fueled and exacerbated by the indiscriminate use of technology. Be it radicalisation, gambling, porn addiction or the “one-click” ordering of that book or gadget you can barely remember purchasing as you gingerly sign for it the next day.
In terms of social equality, our little thought-experiment is an exercise that brings into stark relief the plight of an increasingly unheard group of people. As with so many entrenched social issues, the causal circumstances are complex. This is certainly true for the 4 million-plus over 65-year-olds in the UK (Age UK Report 2018) who have never used the internet.
What makes this a potentially “wicked issue” is that those who are excluded may themselves be totally oblivious to the implications. It’s almost certain that you know an isolated person although you may not realise they are in this predicament.
Just take a minute to think about the people in your life and how you interact with them. Our friends, brothers, sisters; our nieces and nephews; aunts and uncles. Moving up the tree, there are parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents. How often do you see differences in the way they all use technology, or not, as may well be the case?
Leave no one behind
You can stop imagining now because you haven’t really had a slight knock on your head and your memory is fine. However, the older, digitally excluded members of our communities are still going to experience lower life expectancy; limited access to credit; social isolation and diminished wellbeing in general. Unless, of course, something is done about it.
A Highly Curable State of Affairs
This is the world of digital isolation and very much a reality for the 4 million 65-year-olds. So we’ve been thinking about how in this day and age it can be OK for that to be the case. In other words, what would a more digitally inclusive world be like for this demographic? And what are the factors that would enable it?
The real question is are we going to close this digital gap or let it widen further? For an insidious social condition like isolation to become so prevalent is a worrying trend. We should all be concerned about it.
Isolation is in many ways an ineffable subject and the consequences are played out on a “human scale”. That is to say, it’s exactly the kind of problem communities are great at solving. It’s therefore within our gift, as individuals, to figure out the best levers to bring about change. When inaction and apathy will only leave people behind, surely, no one is too old to connect?
So, if you have an older friend or relative who doesn’t get online why not have a chat with them and see what interests them. Like, 86 year old Naomi here in a session at her home with our Inclusion Ninja; learning to use WhatsApp to connect with her great-grandchildren in the United States.