Why we support Get Online Week

Buckinghamshire libraries joined thousands of other community groups to promote Get Online Week, this week. The initiative is the largest digital inclusion campaign in the country.

In common with the Tinder Foundation, the earlier work of Go ON UK and other campaigners, it recognises that people who can’t or won’t go online are from lots of different backgrounds and face many different barriers. There isn’t, therefore, one solution. Partnership working is crucial.

It was important to me that our digital team supported colleagues in the libraries to make the week a success. Our posts are publicly funded, and we’re in a privileged position of being confident and highly proficient at using technology in our daily lives. So Get Online Week was an important opportunity for us to make a different kind of contribution to our community.

But equally important, was what it taught us. I have vivid memories of the time I spent with an older woman – a previously proficient typist – going online for the first time. In particular, the challenges presented by her very mild arthritis and varifocals in being able to select a radio button and choose accurately from a dropdown list.

This week our team Slack channel has been full of people sharing their experiences:

  • “interesting to see how difficult some find it to use a mouse and keyboard and what I think is second nature”
  • “exciting to know that I’ve helped open up the web to people for the first time”
  • “I converted one person from begrudgingly creating an email address to going to buy a tablet to connect with the world”

So we went to give, but got more back.

The library service had done an excellent job in recruiting people who were clearly nervous, but ready to learn. People had a variety of reasons for attending: a sense that they needed an email address, that the internet was no longer optional, or pressure from a family member. Many were nervous about spam, fraud and inappropriate content – but understood the potential benefits, too.

You don’t have to wait for Get Online Week 2017. We can all help friends, family members and even colleagues to give greater confidence and awareness in using computers and accessing the internet. It’s easy, important – and invaluable learning too!

How our use of technology is changing, and what it means

Ofcom has published its annual review of Britons’ use of digital technology. It explains how our use of technology is changing – and I’ve analysed five key facts and what that means for us in local government.

1. Is there anyone left to connect to the internet?

Nine out of ten homes have access to the internet, with almost no change in the last two years. Just 2% say they are likely to take it up over the next year. The battle for digital adoption is on the 10% who don’t want to, or don’t see the point.50% of those without home broadband say they don’t need it.

2. Smartphones rule

We’ve explained that there’s been a 45% increase in use of a smartphone on BucksCC.gov.uk in the last year. UK internet users aged between 16 and 34 years old consider it “the most important device” for internet access.

People spent an average of 81.8 hours online in March 2016. The average time spent online by a smartphone internet user was 59.6 hours, noticeably more than the average time spent online by internet users on laptops and desktops (30.7 hours).

3. Use of government websites

There has been no change in the proportion of people accessing government websites – steadily at 35%.

4. Instant messaging is surging – social networking stagnant

The proportion of people using IM services such a WhatsApp is up from 28% to 43%, and photo/ video messaging (MMS) has risen to more than a fifth of adults in a given week. Email takes up just 5% of time spent on media activities for 16-24s vs 16% for messaging.

Facebook and Twitter use has fallen slightly in the last year – although the majority of the population still uses Facebook weekly. However, Facebook Messenger is used by 22m Brits, and Whatsapp 17m.

5. Ageist stereotypes must be broken down

Of people over 65 years old:

  • 76% say being online has made life easier
  • 42% would feel out of touch if they were unable to access the internet
  • 47% say that because of the internet, they don’t feel bored

So what does that mean for us?

  1. There’s a hearts and minds task to reach the 10% of people with no intention of using the internet. Training courses help, but truly showing the value of the internet remains a critical task – and a social good
  2. We’re right to be mobile first in our approach to content and design – but we can do more to consider the opportunities of the device being ‘context-aware’ (eg an alert when you’re near a library to explore the new Harry Potter?)
  3. We’ve got the audience we’ve got. Our job is to better serve them
  4. We’re not part of conversations on social media messaging portals – but we’re also not using them in work (in the main). Why not?
  5. Older people can use the internet and get real value from it. We mustn’t exclude them from our thinking and design considerations

If you’d like to discuss this more, let me know and we’ll put on a show & tell.