The Human Cost Of The ‘Digital Divide’

digital skills are crucial today
People of all ages are less able to thrive if their digital skills are lacking

Among technology circles the expression “Digital Literacy” is usually associated with hard core tech-skills, such as coding languages, and the more esoteric abilities normally found in system administrators and cloud engineers. However to those of us who are familiar with the true scope of information technology, and how ordinary folk tend to use IT, computers, mobile devices, and online media digital literacy tends to have a much broader set of implications.

For the everyday world of social life people are expected to be able to interact, and communicate with their government agencies, and local official services through web-based interfaces, for example. These services were once managed through personal visits to offices, and speaking with counter staff, or telephone inquiries. These days most of these kinds of public facing services have been digitized, and transferred to web pages.

A mobile ‘smart’ device is assumed, or at least a desktop PC, those people who are not familiar with using this technology are often faced with many problems, which can result in genuine hardship and copping fines, penalties and sometimes getting into serious difficulty.

Artificial intelligence, this can sometimes be a powerfully ironic misnomer when offerings such as ‘Robodebt’ are inflicted on citizens. The experience of people in Australia has demonstrated how these A.I systems can lead to tragic outcomes. The government sought to automate debt recovery from Australian people who might have been overpaid, or mistakenly paid government allowances, and benefits, however the management of this computer-based debt recovery has been less than ideal.

The Algorithm which underpins the Australian government’s debt recovery system has been brought into question in recent times, a citizen’s ‘Class Action’ has been tabled, with Gordon Legal providing the legal services for Australian people who have been targeted by this algorithm, charged with considerable debts which in some cases are completely false. The central legal argument being levelled at the Australian government is that using a computer algorithm to determine debt is unlawful.

We have the enormous reality of a world that has changed beyond recognition, the web has become the arena on which all of our lives are being managed; the fact that we own it seems to have escaped the notice of many people.

This brings us to digital literacy. 

The World Wide Web is a technology, this is what it is, the addressing of published media on networks. In terms of its impact on society, the WWW matches the Printing Press.

Social Media, and its many variants represents the current state of play with the web. We have seen a considerable attempt to turn the public against social media, claims of ‘privacy’ intrusions and the sale of user data are widely discussed, and it has now become terribly fashionable to delete your Facebook account.

The sale of user data has been a common practice in business for centuries. As users of these platforms we are asked questions when we sign up, the responses to these questions becomes the data which Facebook uses to identify who we are, what we like, what we dislike, our age group, where we are located and so forth. The last time I looked the responses to these questions was entirely voluntary, in fact you don’t have to engage with Facebook at all if you prefer not to.

All of this talk of ‘Cambridge Analytica’, and insidious intrusions into our minds, this reads like undergraduate Science Fiction, anyone with a grain of critical thinking ability can see through this as being a fabrication, hysterical conspiracy theory.

We have the situation today of education authorities and the mainstream media preaching against social media, presenting it as being somehow ‘harmful’, this is very interesting. I think we need to look at this very closely and observe exactly what they are saying, and why they are saying it.

One of the most interesting developments of ‘web culture’ has been the emergence of ‘Open Source’.

Open Source is not just a buzzword, it is an entire philosophy, what this philosophy is concerned with is the wide distribution of software, and tools which can genuinely help people.

WordPress is a significant project of Open Source, the software is widely distributed, and modified by its users, it is developed and contributed to by a global community.You might think this is yet another ‘Clunky’ production, laudable in its objectives, but flawed in its execution, but you would be dead wrong!

A simple visit to WordPress.org/showcase will demonstrate just how many highly significant players have used this brilliant software to present, and transact their businesses and projects. Do the names: Disney, Bloomberg International, Chicago Times, The City University of New York, Snoop Dogg, The Bloggess mean anything to you?

In terms of the World Wide Web, 30% of sites are now powered by WordPress, this is a staggering statistic. WordPress must have something going for it.

As someone who is interested with Adult Education, and bridging the ‘Digital Divide’ I see WordPress as an incredibly useful teaching tool, not because it enables non-coders to produce little web sites, and avoid the rigors of learning ‘coding’, but because it introduces people to the entire spread of WWW technologies, it gently guides its users towards discovery of digital media as a whole.

A person who is interested with learning about the WWW, and the possibilities this brings is very well served by engaging with WordPress software.

In order to publish on the web we need to address several technologies, we need to understand ‘Hosting’, we need to purchase a domain name, so right away the student is plunged into the deep end, these are the core elements of working with the web.

My intentions are to help those people who are interested with learning about the web, but perhaps they have been told they need to learn ‘Full Stack’ skills. Well, full stack has to start somewhere, and WordPress offers them a non-threatening means to gain the practical confidence, the technical foundations for understanding the web.

In Australia, IT and the web seems to have caught many people by surprise.

The full scale, and the scope of the changes have not been accurately assessed. We have on the one hand impressive groups, and project silos, but on the other we have a significant mass of people who lack even basic IT understanding.

Until we can apply practical solutions for upskilling a great many more people we will suffer enormous social problems. 

I think that using WordPress as the primer, the teaching framework for web education is the way to go.

My WebStruct project is one way of approaching this enormous challenge, I think this has great potential for helping many thousands of people; these are early days, and there will be changes to the plan, but I think this is a valuable path. Australian people can be informed and provided with WWW skills through WordPress education.

If you are interested, you can contact me Mike@webstruct.xyz 

 

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