Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Digital Exclusion

(By Richard Holway 9.00am 7th July 09) Tonight the Prince’s Trust Technology Leadership Group holds is annual Gala Dinner at Guildhall. Looking at the top-notch guest list, I know we will see quite a number of readers tonight. My association with the Trust, as one of the founders and past Chairman of the TLG, is well known. I think that we are breeding a generation of youngsters too many of whom are excluded from the opportunities that most of us take for granted.

I was therefore very interested to read in the FT today about Martha Lane Fox’s pledge to move 6m of the poorest on line. Martha was appointed last month as the ‘digital inclusion champion”.

Let me quote from the statistics she presented. “Today, 80 per cent of the government’s interactions with the public are with the “bottom 25 per cent” in society, she said. Of those in social housing, 70 per cent have no internet access and 70 per cent of people aged over 75 have never used the internet.”

Similar figures apply to young people in the D and E socioeconomic groupings. To grow up as a youngster without internet access is, in my view, akin to growing up in a household without books. Almost akin to not being able to read or write. Cutting those youngsters off from many opportunities.

As I have stated before, one of the main differences between youngsters in A and B groups and those in D and E are the networks which they can tap into. Dad’s contacts will get them that all important holiday job placement or first interview. That’s achieved because we all have vast numbers of ‘Loose ties’ – something that D and E people don’t have.

That’s where I think that social networking just might fill the gap for those youngsters. I was reminded of this today when one of my Facebook friends put out a request for a summer placement for his daughter. How great it would be if somehow such networks could be extended further down the socioeconomic groups.

But that can’t even start to happen before we tackle the current digital exclusion.

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