Covid-19 has significantly accelerated the reliance our society has placed on information and communications technologies (ICT). This has further highlighted many pre existing issues across society relating to digital inclusion.
Digital exclusion refers to those who struggle to benefit from the digital age. The Digital Divide refers to the gap between those who are capable of benefiting from the digital age and those who are not. There are many reasons for individuals being subjected to digital exclusion. A few examples of these issues include:
Varying levels of digital skills: Many older people tend to be less skilled in digital technologies and this can result in higher rates of exclusion.
Affordability: Groups with lower incomes are more likely to place a higher reliance on mobile digital connections and tend to have less digital devices which decreases the extent to which they can engage with the digital world.
Geographic access: Rural areas tend to have limited access to secure and reliable broadband services.
Trust and confidence levels: Many individuals feel sceptical about how secure and trustworthy the internet and digital technologies are. Sharing information and data can act as barriers for many. Many fear fraud or security breaches.
Perceived need to engage with the internet: Groups of older and less skilled users do not see as much of a need to engage with these technologies.
Due to the implications of the global pandemic a large majority of learning opportunities have been transformed to digital and remote learning environments. The closure of schools due to lockdowns and restrictions has exacerbated the disparities in the opportunities surrounding learning. The most liable and vulnerable learners are those lacking in digital skills and with the least access to connectivity and hardwares.
Digital exclusion can be very harmful in our society as it can contribute towards deterioration in life paths, such as lifelong earnings, poor health and a higher risk of marginalisation.
With the huge increase in our society’s reliance on ICT, it can be argued that individuals need to ensure they are participating in the digital age. This is to ensure that they get access to essential information, services and learning opportunities. It is true that digital inclusion is extremely valuable, yet it is important to ensure that it does not reduce social inclusion. For those who are isolated, moving from human interaction to digital technologies and interfaces may actually increase loneliness and isolation. This can be especially true for older people who have lived their life largely pre-digital.
Government and public bodies across the world are beginning to put an emphasis on promoting social inclusion to ensure that all members of society are given ample opportunities and access. Many efforts are being made to fight social exclusion and marginalisation through investing in projects that aim to make digital inclusion more accessible and affordable for all. Digital technologies and the internet should be used to empower people and support advancements within society.
To learn more about topics such as social and digital inclusion make sure you are registered for the Cyber Science conference 2021.