Online Access Forum: Why Digital Inclusion Matters
Talk about timing. It's this Friday. Hosted by Mark Thompson, the day is part of the ongoing collaborative and productive dialogue taking place with a number of different organisations. Earlier this week, I heard Martha Lane Fox, Digital Inclusion Champion on Radio 4's Today programme passionately championing the rights of people to have the same choices and same rights as the people who are connected. A new report makes sombre reading. Digitally excluded households are missing out on making savings between £270 and £560 per year from shopping and paying bills online, and the most economically disadvantaged families are missing out on combined savings of over £1billion.
I sit on the task force Martha chairs and what's energising is the commitment of organisations such as UK Online Centres and the determination of initiatives such as Totally Online Barnsley to get everyone in Barnsley online by 2012. Together, we now have Race Online 2012 a national call to action. Have a look and see if you can get involved.
Why does digital literacy matter? The facts tell their own story. More than 10 million adults across the UK have never used the internet, and worryingly 4 million of this group is also socially excluded. All of them are missing out on the connections, the opportunities and the cost efficiencies that the web has to offer. Of the 4 million adults offline who are socially excluded: 39% are over 65 years old; 23% are unemployed and 19% are in families with children.
At its core, inclusion is about enabling people to be part of our community. Or in other words, it's a wonderful way of opening up worlds, of communicating, and alleviating loneliness and exclusion.
What can we do to help those who have never had the opportunity to use the web for simple day-to-day life-enhancing activities?
There is a generation now retired who missed the IT revolution completely. Why should they not be able to enjoy all the opportunities and benefits offered by the Internet? Take the simple question of language. We put up web addresses - but to some this makes no sense at all. They need help to understand- what for them is a new way of life that has somehow by passed them over the last 10-15 years.
We need to ensure that the bewildering often mystifying language and terminology is made simple and clear. They also need help which is not patronising. Then there is fear; fear of learning and being shown up. Perhaps this can be lightened with support from a family member or neighbour? Perhaps volunteering is one part of the overall solution. I'd like your thoughts and suggestions on what we can do individually and collectively to make a difference. Do you have examples of helping an older relative get connected, or perhaps a friend?
I believe a simple and effective need is making bog standard technology simple - easier to understand and therefore use. We have all known the frustration of the system crashing and the sheer rage that can sometimes grip you when you've lost hours of work. I deal with the frustration of my wireless not working (even though the modem is winking green) by pulling all the wires out, taking a deep breath and starting again. Websites that crash give new hesitant users a feeling of failure rather than frustration. They need reassurance that it's not them - it's the machine!
Flickr, online shopping, Skype, free phone calls, video conferencing, consumer advice and information, find-a-friend services have over the years helped make the web relevant to our lives. What the BBC can do with the myriad stories it tells is to use our creative storytelling skills across a variety of platforms to help encourage that take up. And we can do this with the faces that have become familiar over the years.
At the Access Forum tomorrow, we will show e contributions from Terry Wogan, Adrian Chiles, Kirsty Young, Jonathan Ross, Kirsty Wark, Ken Bruce, Kwame Kwei-Armah and members of the EastEnders cast and Blue Peter team. I'll make sure this is available for you to see
A sizeable group of those not online at home are the young. Most access digital services at their friends' houses, schools, colleges, or universities. It is now about making them more confident, better users, so they appreciate what they need to do or not do, and how to express themselves creatively. They need to grasp how (and why) media works as it does, what is legal and what is not, and how to protect their identities and rights...
Later this evening, I am going to the launch of a new Consortium by OFCOM to promote Digital Participation. The aim is to increase the reach, breadth and depth of digital technology use across all sections of society. The Consortium has over fifty members who will contribute expertise and communications channels to promote Digital Participation. Some of the larger members include BT, the BBC, Channel 4 and Google.
The forum we are hosting tomorrow is but one chapter in this continuing narrative. Chaired by Gavin Esler, speakers include: Martha Lane Fox, the Government's Champion for Digital Inclusion; Peter Barron, Director of Communications, Google; Simon Milner, Group Director, Industry Policy, BT and the broadcaster Johnny Ball. Members of the public, who have just embarked on their own online journeys, will tell it like it is.
Nick Reynolds will blog about the day and you will also be able to see some of the short films we will show during the discussions. We will publish our research into home broadband adoption. There is a huge groundswell of support in trying to get the country online - but we need your help. Please post your ideas in the comments.
Seetha Kumar is Controller, BBC Online.