The Internet and the rise of social media are changing so many aspects of our lives – the way we communicate, interact and learn and they are already transforming fundraising and raising awareness. However as we embrace new technology and techniques for communication and campaigning we must not lose sight of the growing digital divide that is opening up, threatening to create an underclass of excluded, disenfranchised people.
UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox estimates that in the UK 9 million people have never used the Internet and, of those, 4 million are the most economically disadvantaged.
Our language is evolving as phrases like ‘Tweeting’ and ‘Google it’ are now widely used every day and have recently been added to the Oxford Dictionary. There is an assumption that everyone is familiar with and understands these phrases and the technology. But for many people this is a foreign language, completely incomprehensible and creating yet another barrier for those who may already feel excluded or marginalised from society.
What does this mean for those working for social good?
While we harness new technologies and take advantage of the opportunities they provide to reach a wider audience and to raise awareness and funds, let’s also use our skills to draw in those who are not familiar with this world.
The Give An Hour campaign (http://champions.go-on.co.uk/giveanhour) encourages each of us to spend an hour helping someone to get online – whether it’s finding videos on YouTube or searching for news and information – find a way to introduce someone to the digital world.
It’s important also to consider the impact of our communications and campaigns – let’s use technology and champion this, but avoid slipping into jargon and assuming that everyone understands and can use Twitter etc. Remember offline channels and be inclusive.
Charities and social organisations can find ways to increase digital inclusion through their campaigns. Those hosting events could consider incorporating ways to help promote digital inclusion – providing Internet access so that the technology can provide a stepping-stone into sharing experiences and ideas – whether it’s using online photo galleries to collate memories or video to provoke discussion.
Mobile is also a very powerful channel, as seen in some of the posts on this site, including posts from Slywia Presley (http://www.spring-giving.org.uk/2011/10/was-ihobo-app-a-success/#more-549) and Jonathan Grapsas (http://www.spring-giving.org.uk/2011/10/think-face-to-face-think-mobile).
It’s estimated that 91% of adults in the UK have a mobile phone (source: Ofcom). This gives those who are not online the opportunity to interact via SMS and other mobile technologies, a great way to engage and encourage participation.
We all have the opportunity to bridge the digital divide, let’s work for inclusion and encourage a broader conversation with everyone.