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Poverty & Technology – An Obvious Mix October 15, 2008

Posted by Kevupnorth in Uncategorized.

Today is an International Blogger Action Day on Poverty.  The great thing about his is that it can really get a disscussion going.  The bad news is, someone has almost certainly written the blog post you want to write already.  A good example of this is Neville Hobson’s post this morning about how technology has become so essential to people that children see not having a mobile phone as a sign of poverty.  In some ways, I think it’s really sad that materials are now so important….but another part of me is secretly delighted that we live in such a technologically enabled society that almost everyone has a mobile phone.  So what to write?  Ah, I’ve got it.  The key is in the phrase, almost everyone.

I think it comes down to a few posts I’ve noticed since the credit crunch hit.  I’ve seen a few messages now from people who are dropping their internet connections and, indeed, their phone lines in an attempt to make ends meet.  The local authority worker in me kicks in at this point and I patronisingly tell people that they can go to their local library to access the internet.  But, I was well and truly put in my place by one facebook friend who pointed out that her local library is six miles away.

I thought back to a hard hitting talk at the last E-Guides Conference from Dave Carter of the Manchester Digital Development Agency.  Dave drew to our attention the fact that, in many European countries, communities have got together and laid their own broadband.  Cities are wireless enabled.  EVERYONE can access the net.

But hold on – isn’t that happening here?  Not according to Dave’s speech.  He pointed out that the areas that get the broadband are the main city centres, often the financial centres.  Regulation on the laying of cables restricts farmers from digging a hole and laying some cable.  The regeneration areas are often the ones that simply are not wired up.

But let’s not worry.  Everyone has mobile phones.  You can use the internet on those now.  Of course that doesn’t wash either.  A great deal of my net communication is done via my mobile.  But then, I have, at my last check, a good enough credit rating to get a contract mobile phone with a free internet and text bolt on.  Sadly, on pay-as-you go, it isn’t that easy.  You then look at the services that link to SMS.  Twitter is good example here.  They recently cut their service of sending SMS to UK consumers because they could not negotiate a deal with the UK mobile suppliers.  I keep finding wonderful SMS-to-Net tools that don’t work in the UK.  If we’re going to open this to everyone, mobile operators need to be in on the game.

So, it’s back to the library.  But, as any public library assistant will tell you, there is some real tension in the library service about the use of libraries for “social” computer use.  Maybe it’s that, or maybe it’s our litigious society, but either way even where you can access the web in libraries for social purposes a great deal of it is locked down.  I’ve heard many teachers level strong accusations of this against the NGFL systems in many areas too.

For me, the great thing about technology is that it removes the last barriers of class and education.  Technology can make the literary accessible to the illiterate, education available to the un-educated and, more importantly, highlight the issues vice versa.  Technology can make everything accessible.  However, there is still one barrier.  The access to technology.  The so called ‘digital divide’.  However, it isn’t so much that people are not skilled in using it.  It’s about access.  Not access to technology, but access to the infrastructures that let communities thrive, develop, upskill  and formulate themselves.

My discussion point, for blogger action day on poverty, is this:

“How do we work with the ISPs and Mobile providers, the wi-fi makers and the city planners, the local authorities and the public sector bodies and the existing geographic communities to bring about change that is accessible, unrestricted (within reason), and, most of all, affordable?  If we don’t acheive this, will those without the access will become the technologically impoverished?”



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