Friday, 20 November 2009

Digital Poverty (part two)

While I was at home struggling with Google Wave, my mum was sitting in a lecture presented by economist David Blanchflower. You may have heard about his work on happiness and developed countries. He also sat on the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee. I heard from a mutual friend that he was on the lowest security clearance to be allowed to see the B of E's gold reserves, so he did, just because he could. I'd say it's pretty cool being able to see the actual bars of gold that our country is based upon.

Anyhow, my mum came home and raved about Blanchflower's presenting skills and about what he had to say. She told me of the lost generation of young people that will be scarred for life because of the recession.

"Older people will suffer too" she said, "but they'll get over it." Younger people will lag behind in education and work experience and it will follow them through life. Blanchflower's solution is to subsidise young people now so that they don't lose out for the rest of their lives. You can read more about this here and here.

My mum, who works with the kinds of people about which Blanchflower speaks, was switched on to his ideas. Unfortunately she is also all too aware of funding difficulties, and other obstacles involved with trying to engage with what are commonly known as NEETS.

I thought this was a good opportunity to explain the concept behind the University of the People that I mentioned in my previous blog post. Free online further education. It's a step beyond the Scottish ILA system (through which I learned German this year, danke).

My mum agreed that this is an intriguing idea, but argued that it is of no use to this potentially 'lost generation' who may lack the motivation and literacy to participate. More importantly, they would probably lack access. By this she meant internet access.

"We first need to do something about 'digital poverty' so to say. Ooh! I just made that phrase up," she concluded.

"I bet you weren't the first to make it up," I replied. Laptop to hand I googled "digital poverty" - over three thousand entries, including a memo regarding Tony Blair from 2000.

I had previously scorned those with the "stubborn stupidity" to not learn how to use the new and vital technology at our fingertips. I will eat my words. There are those in good position to take advantage of learning how to use new technology, or who are in position where a certain competency should be expected of them. There are others who are being missed out.

Incidentally, I also googled "digital underclass" - more entries for this one.

What is interesting, and slightly alarming, is that most of the entries on google about digital poverty refer to the developing world, but what about the UK? There are those in denial about the existence of poverty in the UK, is this perhaps because their voices are not heard by the mainstream information services? So what about the homeless? the illiterate? displaced children?

Isn't this worthy of further investigation? Think back to my previous post about how fast technology has changed, and its potential uses. Even I, a well-versed computer geek, am overwhelmed by what the internet can do. How about those with little or no access, motivation, education?

Yep, so this is what my mum and I talked about one afternoon.

I have received some interesting resources from a former classmate about what I have since learned is commonly called the "digital divide" (it turns out it was a key part of a module taken by my Postgrad peers in the Political Communications course. Oops. It seems I really cannot get away from my previous life as a politics student).

Once again, there is little focus on the UK, so if there is anyone who knows anything about digital poverty or the digital underclass or the digital divide, or anyone who knows someone who might know someone, please let me know, I'd be interested to find out more.

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