Wired Magazine recently posted an article on the many ways people are forced to use technology and the problems that creates for people without technology. Mostly they used examples of mobile technology and I suspect many of us can think of our own examples. But they did talk a bit about how New Zealand is addressing the issue. I though it might be helpful as we’re all working on Digital Equity plans…
So what’s to be done? One lead to follow is New Zealand, which has been following a digital inclusion blueprint since 2019. It’s still in its early days, but the country has made some headway in educating and encouraging those in marginalized communities to get online, discovering the barriers they face in adopting technology and working to overcome them.
One focus area is New Zealand’s Indigenous population. Actions taken so far have included opening hubs that act as internet education bases in addition to coworking hubs, at a cost of NZ$34 million ($20 million), and ensuring that any data used to access key governmental websites through mobile connections is not chargeable.
New Zealand is starting to grapple with the scale of the problem, but there’s a risk that other countries won’t act quickly enough to close the divide. For Smethurst, there are two options, which should happen concurrently: Firstly, businesses need to be incentivized to continue to offer good offline alternatives. “If you’re going to mandate that restaurants provide calorie information [a UK legal requirement], I don’t understand why you can’t say they must, at least somewhere, have physical menus,” she says. For medical services and call centers, avoiding digital creep is more challenging because it’s often introduced as a way of avoiding overwork, underpayment, and understaffing.
Which is where the second option comes in: government intervention to reduce the cost of accessing digital services in whatever way possible (the New Zealand government, for example, is in discussions with fiber providers to install ultrafast broadband in social housing). But perhaps the cheapest intervention of all would be to tackle the cost of the devices that now act as our gateway to existence. “We need to have cheaper smartphones,” Smethurst says.