Without wanting to quote too much from his article (that is only the inspiration
for my piece, the two should complement each other), Guy points out that at the
moment anyone can walk into their Citizens Advice Office and find out most of
what they want, and warns that increased relience on the net to deliver this
information will lead to the closure of Advice Centers in smaller towns, leaving
only those able to access and work a PC, with access to the information.
A little background before I continue. Here in the UK we used to have a public
transport system we could be proud of, trains that ran on time, trains that went
to a far greater number of stations than they do now, and trams and busses that
would take you to virtually any part of the town you wanted to go. Now we have a
rundown & fragmented train system. They are late more often than they are on
time, and the busses are mostly smelly, horrible things, also late and
uncomfortable. The decline of these services is blamed on the introduction of
the motor car (not the only reason, but for simplicity and these articles, lets
assume it is). This has had the effect of taking the services away from those
who need them the most, the elderly, those in rural areas and the poor. I'm
saying this because I know there are countries out there that still have
fantastic public transport systems.
This is as far as Guy's comparison goes, but I think that it's going to be far
more literall than that. Lets take BT's ADSL roll out for example. It's only
being installed in exchanges in the most havily populated areas at the moment.
The areas BT reckons will have high demand. Fair enough. This new braodband
access will no doubt drive up demand for services such as online shopping,
bringing the benefit to those who have broadband access. But what about the
people who could really do with this service? The elderly and especially the
elderly who live in rural areas? 20 miles from the nearest supermarket. (You
would think that small village shops would thrive in such a situation wouldn't
you? But no, the motor car has put paid to that idea.)
OK, so lets suppose now that
- Broadband access is available everywhere.
- The British government's plan to give everyone access to the net is in place.
This still leaves the problem of technical literacy. It's a good bet that the
majority of people who use a web browser can actually read, but can they
understand what they have read, and apply it in a constructive way?
Recently I set up a suite of PC's in a public library. These PC's had access to
a huge number of educational CD Roms, ranging from Primary Schools (Elementry
School in the US) Maths & English right the way through to advanced languages &
even a set of MSCE training CD's. However it often dismayed me to see these PC's
being used to look up the latest football scores, look up the latest cheats for
their Playstation games, or read their email. The resource was going to waste.
The library wasn't bothered because as far as their statistics showed it was
being used, and that's all that's important right?
The Government, local councils and the BBC are all making an effort to educate
people in the use of PC's, and the information that they can access with it, but
it's up to people to actually make use of the courses these opportunities. It's
not as though it's difficlut, some schemes are even being run in pubs, taking
the tutoring to the people instead of the other way around. Unfortunatly, I dont
think this will be enough.
The people who provide information on the net need to make it simpler to
understand, people who use the internet need to make the effort to increase
their literacy and the people who provide access, such as BT, need to make sure
that people can easily access that information from a lot more places.