A Digital Divide

10 September, 2020

Recently my office was contacted by constituents who were advanced in age. They were concerned and anxious.

What used to be a simple action for them pre-COVID was now causing stress and anxiety.

They needed to return forms to a government department. Previously they could fill them out in handwriting and drop the forms back

but now they’re required to go “online” to submit them.

On this occasion it was a government office, but next time it could be a bank, an insurance company, or a real estate agent.

Now more than ever, business is requiring everyone to go “online”.

Yet to some people, not all of them advanced in age, “online” is a foreign country.

Life experiences differ. Not everyone is “connected” in the digital age.

Expecting them to go where they have never been, where the language makes no sense and the landscape is confusing, creates stress in an already anxious environment.

The digital divide is real. But as with all divides in our society, empathy and understanding can help bridge it.

Governments, companies and service staff tend to take it for granted that going “online” is just what everyone does.

But it isn’t.

Understanding that is the key to helping those unfamiliar with the digital world to embark upon the journey of discovering it.

I have written to the Minister for Government Services to alert him to the need to ensure our service staff consider the impact of their advice before giving it.

Before telling clients or family members, for that matter “to go online”, we need to ask the question: “Are you familiar with the online service?”.

If they’re not, guide them how to access it and what to do when they get there.

Yes, it takes time. But it is a worthy investment. Share your knowledge. Take someone on the journey of learning. Everyone will benefit.

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Russell Broadbent MP
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