Martha Lane Fox presented this years Longford Lecture and talked about the subject of digital exclusion. She joked how she still liked to see herelf as young even though she was called a ‘digital dinosaur’ last week by someone. When she started LastMinute.com the the only question the VC backers in suits asked was what happened if she became pregnant. That all seems a long time ago.
She started with a vertiable barrage of facts. Did you know that:-
40% of news in consumed online
5 of the top ten companies which dominate the Internet did not exist 10 years ago.
80 million people are playing farmville.
1 in 8 people who married in the USA last year met their partners online.
UK has the highest global percentage of ecommerce.
50% of all travel is arranged online.
The Internet is worth 100 billion pounds to the UK economy.
But did you also know that information is in overload and that 9 million people in the UK do not use the Internet. And this group includes a disproportionate number of poor, old and ‘excluded’ groups such as prisoners who are losing out.
Digital exclusion is creating a divide where people with these new skills have many more opportunities in work and leisure. And it is not just a personal loss. Every 10% increase in broadband usage boosts GDP by 1%.
So what is the solution? Martha Lane Fox talked about 3 main ways to solve this.
1. Inspire. Once people see the benefits of the being connected they become far more interested in it.
She mentioned several projects she had visited around the UK. She met a 70 year old man in Bridlington who could not see the point of it all and was lonely. Once she showed him how he could connect to all the 70 year old ladies in the town he was hooked! She also talked about Kiva as an example of how charities could raise money for project and how the Charity Savvy Chavvy was providing a meeting point on the Internet for gypsy and rommany children to get together and support each other.
2. Support. Give people safe and controlled access to the Internet.
In the UK alone half a billion pounds of IT equipment is locked away in offices, schools and building unused for long periods of time which could be better used. And groups like prisoners should be given ‘controlled’ access to help them with reintegration into society.
At the start Jon Snow joked that the big issue was how to get prisoners to have internet access but stop them downloading things like pornography and indeed the architectual plans to the prisons!
3. Encouragement. This needs to take the form of both carrots and sticks.
People should be given incentives and rewards to use the internet (and sometimes cash incentives). But there also needs to be some cohersion to push people into using it. Martha Lane fox saw the government as a key player here, both making lots of information available online (so your IPad application can tell you about smog or crimes levels across London) and moving people onto using government services. Everything needs to have an ‘Internet first’ strategy.
One of the things that Martha Lane Fox finds most exciting (and scary) is that the Internet allows government and business to move from a oneway ‘broadcast’ to a two way conversation. People can have education and services on their own terms with the Internet.
After her talk, Martha Lane Fox was asked a number of questions from the audience and said:-
1. She was very impressed with the Greater Manchester Police initiative where they tweeted every event one day and interacted with the people of Manchester.
2. The ‘build it and they will come model’ for the Internet is dead and you need to be where the people are.
3. Reading is still important but you do need digital skills.
4. The image of teenagers locking themselves in their rooms and only interacting virtually is overstated and not the fault of the Internet. She remembers spending hours on the phone chatting to her best friend when she was a teenager.
The Longford lecture was brilliantly introduced by the Channel 4 journalist Jon Snow (who is very tall and very, very funny) and the Independent Newspaper group (who sponsors the event) will publish a report on the evening in the very near future.
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