Martha Lane Fox is hoping the Olympic Games in 2012 will do for broadband what the queen’s coronation did for television sales in 1953. The new Digital Champion says not having access to internet exaggerates and exacerbates the problems of the most socially and economically disadvantaged people in the UK. It’s not clear how this success will be measured. The number of new signers-on at a community centre? Increased applications for broadband? Are there plans for new computers to include a broadband connection in the way television sets are licensed? Neither is it clear how competency will be achieved. Training through family and community responsibility is another vague governmental idealism. “Get kids training grannies, get all of us kind of plugging into our local communities to try and pull the whole country along. If we all took it on ourselves to train 10, 20 people, the job is done,”
Digital Britain is fundamentally flawed. The rhetoric fails to recognise that the technology is only ever the tool. Acquisition is not the same as use nor does ownership equate with competence. This is utopian thinking; create the desired environment and the population will respond accordingly. Issues of diversity, literacy, cognitive and physical abilities, are all typically absent. The RNIB suggest that 1 in 12 of those aged 60 have a sight loss, rising to 1 in 6 by the age of 70; everyday 100 people in the UK begin to lose their sight. The number of people with a degree of visual impairment is expected to more than double in the next 25 years, an increase linked to an ageing population and poor health. Dyslexia Action suggests 10% of the population have difficulty with reading and writing. Low levels of literacy and numeracy are linked to truancy, disengagement with education is linked to a cycle of unemployment, low income and poor housing – all factors contributing towards the social and economic disadvantage identified by Martha Lane Fox.
But – rather being negative – it could be that the government is finally serious about targeting those for whom digital data poses the greatest barriers? That Digital Britain is the long awaited acknowledgement of the need for affordable assistive technology, recognition that ALL Internet content should be available in multiple, alternative formats and that ALL computers should have decent magnification and screen reading software installed as standard. If Britain is to become digital then priority has to be given to diversity on a national scale. You can bring the technology to the people but you can’t make them engage. Not without addressing the very same factors that have created the target audience of the report in the first place.