Breaking out of the loop
Vicious circles are a type of feedback loop. One negative state or process leads to a second which in turn feeds back to the first. In cases like substance abuse the spiral is clear. Abusing drugs or alcohol has multiple negative consequences, such as guilt, physical deterioration or mental and psychological impairment. These states in turn leave the addict prone to further substance abuse, and so the cycle continues unabated.
Breaking a vicious circle is simple. You just have to remove one of the negative states and the loop will collapse. The problem is that simple and easy are not the same thing.
So how does this relate to digital exclusion?
If you are actively looking for employment, digital exclusion is increasingly becoming synonymous with actual exclusion from the workforce. The kind of training which umemployed adults will need in order to re-enter the workforce is increasingly being provided online. Therefore, digital poverty prevents opportunities, which in turn leads to further digital exclusion.
If the loop is allowed to continue the problem will eventually become insurmountable.
I recently took an online test with the national numeracy advocacy charity. They are doing excellent work in a vital field. However, in order to broaden their reach, all of their tutorials and resources are online. When I asked a representative of the charity about how this effected the digitally excluded, they admitted that this was a problem that they had not yet found a solution to.
This divide between those who are online and those who are not, is only going to get worse. The only realistic solution to this problem is to reduce digital exclusion to it lowest possible level.
The World's End And Lots Road Big Local (WELR) is a charitable organisation operating in Chelsea as part of a nationwide scheme. A program whereby hundreds of places in the UK are allocated £1 million in order to improve their local area from the grassroots up. Every Big Local area gets to define their own priorities, and for WELR, Jobs and Enterprise was near the top of the list. The charity has helped many local residents to enter the workforce or to set up their own business.
In that time, skills training has proved to be one of their most effective tools. Courses have been taken in security, construction site management, cosmetic and beauty qualifications, etc...
These courses have been effective in getting people back into work and off assistance. For any local area, a reduction in unemployment is hugely beneficial. Increased employment means a reduction in anti-social behaviour, more opportunities for local businesses, and above all a positive change in culture.
Our latest course, which as been taking place during lockdown, has been a combination of online and classroom learning.
The problem is the online part of the course. The exclusion has three aspects. Firstly there is a lack of access to decent broadband. Secondly is access to up-to-date technology. However, the third and most insidious problem is a lack of basic skills.
For someone like myself, who entered the workforce only a couple of years before PCs started to enter the office, the accumulation of computer and IT skills was simply a matter of turning up for work. I acquired those skills as I went along. I was never presented with a steep learning curve.
That's not the case for those who are currently digitally excluded. From their perspective it's like boarding a fast moving train.
So what do we do?
As is always the case, we do what we can. If you have reusable technology, donate it. If you have skills, teach them. If you have spare broadband, make it available.
But most of all, do it kindly. Learning curves can be terrifying, and the feeling that everyone else is on board with something and you are getting left behind can be crippling. But the potential rewards are phenomenal. Families brought closer together, skills and confidence gained. Jobs applied for and gotten. Lives can be enriched and changed for the better.