Covid-19 is widening the digital divide

September 14, 2020

In a previous post we highlighted the current state of the digital divide in the UK. The divide is typically characterised between those who have access to digital services and are able to carry out essential tasks online and those being left behind because they are unable to do so, either through lack of access or skills.

Fast-forward to the current day, we’re in the grip of a global pandemic and it seems more important than ever that we consider the digital inequalities that exist and what they mean for those affected by them. With so many processes now relying on digital, we need to do more to ensure the opportunities provided by digital enablement are distributed evenly. 

An estimated 9 million people in the UK are unable to use the Internet and their device by themselves (Lloyds digital index 2020). Coronavirus has meant those without key digital skills have been left even more exposed at a time where being able to use technology is more vital than ever.

Being ‘digitally confident’ brings a whole sway of benefits for people, from making their money go further to improving job prospects, increasing disposable income, and even managing mental or physical health. But during the pandemic, an increasing rate of frustration with technology and access to technology has appeared. Digital solutions have been rushed to market, while others have been augmented to solve problems for which they were not originally intended. The understandable need to reduce physical contact among the population coupled with the need to maintain a viable economy through functioning businesses has meant even more people have had their choices limited and the services they rely on jeopardised, or reduced.

Here are a few actual examples we have heard of how the digital divide has affected people during the pandemic…

Before Covid: “My dad is 72, loves swimming, he swims three times a week. He used to just turn up and swim for an hour in the morning. He used to boast about how many lengths he’d done.”

With Covid: “It is all timed slots, Dad can’t just show up now, he has to have an app on his phone to book. The receptionist booked his first slot but said she can’t do it every week. He doesn’t use apps on his phone, he doesn’t want to bother anyone, swimming is now a stress.”

Before Covid: “My uncle is 78, he loves driving, but he recently got his first speeding ticket (he’s been driving since the 60s). He was invited to speed school and was happy to go along to the class.”

With Covid: “The person from the council said he had to book into a Zoom call to do speed school. The day came when he had to take part, but the email with the details didn’t arrive, he tried to call but he was too late, the session started without him. He was worried so called again and again, they managed to re-book him, he tested Zoom out on his iPad but his microphone wasn’t working, it was so stressful - he just kept saying he was worried about getting in trouble with the Police.”

Before Covid: “I just take my garden waste to the local tip when I like.”

With Covid: “I now have to book a slot online. I managed to get my Son to book my slot but it was the wrong day, I packed the car and drove there only to be turned away because I had booked for the following week. It was so exhausting.”

Why should I be bothered?

Of course extra measures are essential during these worrying times, but perhaps now after the dust has settled and the ‘new normal’ is well, normal, we should all be mindful of how new processes can bring about new stresses and new inequalities. Something as simple as going for a morning swim has turned into a minefield for some. Access to technology, lack of confidence or skills is being overlooked. Now it is clear the pandemic is here to stay, we need to take stock and ensure all users are considered during the implementation of new products and services.

This little insight was brought to you by Steve, director and founder of Furthermore.

Furthermore are a multi-platform digital product and service design studio based in London. We have one mission: to create innovative digital products that stand out in the landscape, are beautiful, purposeful and a delight for the user. Hot on user experience and user research, we believe good ideas can come at any point in a project, so we utilise agile methodologies. Hypotheses are always tested using prototypes and real users, with improvements being constantly fed back into our user experience and visual designs.

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