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It's no joke being doubly disconnected (June 2007) PDF Print E-mail
Written by david brunnen   
Sunday, 10 June 2007 00:00

ImageThe best jokes are those that deliver an unexpected punch line that arrives ‘from left field’ - or maybe right field, if Beckham is playing.    It’s that fresh combination of ideas that packs the punch, sometimes makes us chuckle, and for just a moment makes us think of things in a different way. 

Making us think, explaining some new opportunity or issue, seeing the problem in a new light, is an everyday challenge.   Business consultants, or network managers, probably don’t like being compared to comedians but, when we face up to delivering the punch line – the call for management action -  we have a lot in common with our funnier friends. 

Take, for example, that staple of the consultant’s art, the two-dimension matrix.  The set-up for the audience is a rehearsal of two familiar notions that are explained separately.  It’s only when these two, now familiar, ideas come together in the matrix that, voila, trumpets sound and pennies drop – and/or people fall about laughing. 

We’ve all heard about ‘The Digital Divide’ and if we spend two seconds thinking about it we realise that there isn’t just one but umpteen shades of digital division that reflect our individual understanding and expertise.  We so soon forget that using predictive text on a mobile phone or downloading an MP3 was once a challenge, and still is for many people.  So on one side of this matrix we could describe the adult population across a range that runs form absolute digital disconnection through to, yes you sir, the most-accomplished of double-clicking clever clogs. 

Now let’s turn our attention to society at large.  It’s obvious that some of us are more socially engaged than others.  Measuring the extent of our ability to  participate in wider society is a bit tricky and, like digital divisions, there are many angles.   It would be really nice to be positive and have a scale of social inclusion but, sadly, the best that glass-half-empty experts can provide is the place-based Index of Multiple Deprivation.   For a more rounded view of social exclusion, recent studies take into account six indicators that cover income, employment, health, education, environment and other service barriers. 

It’s when you put the different perspectives together in the same chart that the pennies start to drop.  Of the entire adult population in England, 39% do not (or cannot) use the Internet.  Looking at the same population from the viewpoint of social exclusion reveals around 8 million disengaged adults amongst whom the Internet is used by barely 2 million.   This leaves over 6 million adults in England (and their children) who are doubly-disconnected - socially excluded and not engaged with what the promoters of our ‘Google Generation’ like to call the Information Society.    Within these 6,000,000 are vast numbers of people who would benefit from access to those everyday things that most of us now take for granted. 

The report, ‘The Digital Inclusion Landscape in England’, is directed at government.  It makes a broad case for policies to boost ‘digital inclusion’.   Just think, it says, of how much taxpayers money could be saved.   Is this someone else’s problem or, outside of government, should we also pause to reflect that our clever commercial systems and services could perhaps be better designed?   Could our systems and products, in the jargon of social researchers, be more ‘accessible’ - easier to use, more affordable and delivered with training and support that better reflects the real needs of customers? 

It comes as no surprise that the Digital Inclusion Team’s report, like so many other useful things, is only available on-line.   Next time you hear a website address on the radio or the telly, just think how many millions of ordinary people are thinking, ’They must be joking.’


This feature was first published in the June 07 issue of NetworkingPlus magazine



Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 August 2008 06:33

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