By David Neale (Reading Voluntary Action)
We are now well and truly in the Digital Age, with our proliferation of laptops and smart mobile devices, and in many ways the UK is the leader in Europe – for example, more than 75% of adults in Britain now have a smartphone, and the UK is Europe’s most active nation of online shoppers.
With the vast majority of us using the internet regularly, one thing that is often overlooked, though, is the disadvantage of not being on the internet, and those who cannot get regular access are getting left further behind with each technological innovation.
A recent survey by the Tinder Foundation shows that 21% of Britain’s population still lacks the basic digital skills to realise the benefits of the internet. Although Reading is known for its generally high levels of IT skills, the number of people without the skills to get online is still in line with the national average.
Some statistics give a stark illustration of the UK’s digital divide: for example, nearly half of this country’s disabled people are not online and over 60% of those with no qualifications have no access to the internet. How can we reach those people without internet access, and how could they be given help to get online?
Here in Reading we do have a major advantage: there are plenty of highly skilled people in the town that can help. At Reading Voluntary Action we have already recruited a team of volunteers to help with regular free drop-in sessions at Reading’s central library, and we hope to expand these sessions to other local centres such as libraries and community centres in the coming months.
To answer the original question…can you really get a whole town online? Realistically there will always be some who will never get the skills or opportunity to use the internet, but with generally good broadband infrastructure and a really capable team of volunteers we can have a good go at narrowing Reading’s digital divide.
Can you help get our town online? We are always looking for more volunteers – please contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in helping.