In today’s society, everything we do seems to drive us online, whether intentional or not. But what if we just don’t want to go online or, what if we can’t? When it’s not possible to access the internet because of 1) geographic reasons or 2) financial reasons, it’s referred to as the Digital Divide ( The Digital Divide: impact on Education).
The digital divide is the term given to gap that exists between people that have access to the internet and digital media and those that don’t (The Digital Divide: scarcity, inequality and conflict). From the definition proposed by The Digital Divide: scarcity, inequality and conflict, the digital divide highlights the problem of accessibility when society needs it.
Writing about a doctor’s online booking system, Ross Clark of Express.co.uk argues “Technology has disenfranchised some of the most vulnerable people in society who do not have internet access or who are unable to use it.”. He adds what use is an online booking system for those who are blind, poor or digitally illiterate. Society as a whole are not digitally literate ( explanation in the video below), so why are retailers, educational and financial institutions acting like they are?
What is digital literacy?
Recently I had an issue with my new mobile number and my online banking. I rang the number provided then they directed to my local branch to get my new mobile number verified. I arrived at the bank, only to be directed to a computer and phone, exactly what I had been doing minutes prior to that. I refused to sit there and repeat what I had just done. A significant amount of time had passed before an employee came back. After explaining what I had been told on the phone numerous times, they finally verified my mobile number. If there were not instructed to send me to a phone and computer upon arrival, my issue would have been resolved a long time ago.
Based on research conducted by The Central Statistics Office, half of Irish people over the age of 60 do not use the internet while 49% of them have never been online (independent.ie). It’s quite unreasonable that most banking is online when nearly half of the elderly population have never even been online. Older people are being left behind as banking continues to offer more services online.
Michele Hanson recalls an experience when she sought to buy a dress in a physical retail outlet. She was told to go online and order it then pick it up in store (thegaurdian.co.uk). Hanson continued to protest that she was standing there “with money, wanting to buy it”. She also wanted to “see it, feel it and try it on”. It seems retailers assume everybody has the same access and capabilities to direct their purchasing online but when that isn’t the case, the digital divides ensues.
Computerweekly.com argues that “The physical store is not dead”, that even online-only stores are building physical stores and showrooms for people to interact with. Like Hanson, people want to see, feel and try things before purchasing.
Independent.ie suggests that “It’s essential these days that students are digitally literate.” This can be achieved by ensuring their teachers are comfortable teaching digital literacy but as a social enterprise CEO John Fitzsimons pointed out ” a lot of teachers are very uncomfortable using ICT because they haven’t been supported,” ( Independent.ie ), but the problem doesn’t just lie with people in education, it affects those wanting to be too. The Digital Divide: impact on Education argues that you need to have access to the internet and have sufficient skills in order to just apply for further education.
I grew up with technology so using the internet to apply for college wasn’t a big deal, in fact, it was expected, but for those who aren’t digital natives, they must develop their skills in order to keep up or be left behind as the gap of the digital divide widens.