At the heart of the Digital Britain report published yesterday is the government’s laudable desire to ensure everyone in the UK has access to broadband internet access.
In the words of the report: “We need a programme to ensure that everyone can connect to the digital economy, that its benefits and advantages are available to all. This means ensuring that all have access to the skills to participate effectively; and that the content and services available give everyone a good reason to take part.”
This was thrown into horrible relief last night when a neighbour, I’m sure she won’t mind me telling you, rang the doorbell at 7pm in a bit of a fluster, not being able to open her email. Well, that’s eventually what I established the problem to be. Her explanation was that she’d “been doing something on Google” and could no longer find the icon she usually clicks to open emails when she starts up the computer. She uses Windows on a PC, I don’t know which version, and Google had presumably imported some new stuff to her taskbar and Outlook was no longer showing as a mini icon on the bottom left hand side of her screen. It was still there when you pressed the Start button and I showed her how to open the programme that way. (You can probably tell: I’m hardly the world’s greatest computing expert myself.)
Needless to say, there was a lot of very untechnial speak going on. “How do you access your emails?” I asked, “Do you use Hotmail or Yahoo?” “Oh, now hang on,” she said, “it’s something like… is it Dell?”
“No, that won’t be it,” I said. “That’s the make of your computer. Do you know your email address?” Yes, she said, she did. It involves a domain name that her son has set up for them. No help.
When I opened Outlook she said that’s what she remembered seeing on screen before so she didn’t need to launch internet explorer after all. Good job because it took about four minutes for her browser to launch. She is clearly not on yet on broadband.
I say all this in the context of “Digital Britain”. Clearly, the government and industry must lead the way in digital developments and there will always be early and later adopters of new technology. I don’t want to be a total party pooper and reality checks are becoming a bit of theme here, but I do think metropolitan media types should recognise how lots of people outside London and outside their own 25 to 45-year-old demographic live their lives.
My neighbour is over 50. But she is also pretty typical of many in this country: they know a certain amount about media and what it can do for them, but they’re not experts and they don’t want to be. They just want the stuff to work and do whatever they bought it for in the first place. Even if my neighbour gets a broadband connection, she still needs some more computing skills to use the internet to best effect. Will it be down to her son to train her?
The problem of media illiteracy could disappear of course as new generations of totally media literate people come through. But I see Ofcom, with the help of the BBC, is being asked to come up with a national media literacy plan. Let’s hope it’s good.
In the same vein, it was fascinating to see the Digital Britain report bigging up digital audio broadcasting (DAB), committing to support this form of digital radio as a “primary distribution network for radio”. All well and good. But it will never be a primary network if you can’t get DAB to certain parts of the country. I write as a disaffected, would-be DAB radio owner living in a DAB-less part of the country. The government’s commitment to getting DAB to “90% of the population and all major roads” may be my saving grace. The A30 runs pretty close to my house. Is that major enough??
Friday rant over. Bon weekend tout le monde.