Digital divide in the era of social networking
Just what do we mean by digital inclusion these days? Back in the last century the emphasis was on getting people connected to the internet, and providing support to those less confident or able to deal with computers. The cry was "bridge the digital divide", and public programmes concentrated on local centres and other forms of access. These days connectivity has increased, and so has the range of connected devices. We can look beyond the technology to the social implications.
I’m asking because I’m doing some work at the moment with the Digital Challenge and Inclusion Network, where the UK Government is offering an award of several million pounds, matched by industry, to the public sector partnership that will best contribute to the vision set out last year:
To create a country at ease in the digital world. Where all have the confidence to access the new services that are emerging, whether delivered by computer, mobile phone, digital television or any other device. To work towards achieving equitable access and remove the barriers to take up…”
The challenge is down to 10 finalists, but the aim of the Network is much wider, with an emphasis on sharing good practice. My colleague Drew Mackie and I are developing a workshop game that will, hopefully, help people play through the design and development of a digital inclusion strategy drawing on the ideas generated during the challenge. There’s more about it on the Network site.
In previous technology planning games and advice – like this work on housing – we invited participants to choose from a range of projects and activities that would help with access, learning, and communication. These days the online buzz is all around social networking and blog communities. Academics have diced the digital divide up into 23 e-types.
Games are useful learning tools because – among other things – you embed some principles in the rules and props, and play stimulates conversations that reveal and maybe challenge some of these principles. That means it is important to have some grasp of the principles in designing the game.
For that reason I jotted down a set of proposition about digital inclusion in today’s more networked world. If they make sense, we can use them to underpin the game, and also fill them out with some examples and other links that might contribute to the conversation. If you think they are off track, I would like to know! I suspect that the most challenging assertion for the public sector is the last one – co-design or evolve with users.
Digital inclusion is social inclusion. Digital inclusion is part of social inclusion – that is, the reason for helping people to use new social technologies is to help them with their relationships, learning, work, leisure and other activities. Digital exclusion means limited access to information and knowledge that others have as a right, and increasingly having no identity in a networked world
The main social benefits stem from interaction. The main ways in which social technologies can help with social inclusion are broadly in helping people to get information; communicate; collaborate; find a voice … and learn by these processes. Each of these benefits may apply in different ways in developing social relationships, work and leisure activities. Social – and digital – inclusion is about relationships and interaction. Digital inclusion technologies must be interactive.