11.9 million people in the United Kingdom are digitally illiterate. It’s a statistic to set you back an inch or two in your chair or, if you are like me and considerably more exuberant when demonstrations involving chairs are in question, to knock you out of it entirely.
In a prosperous nation, not merely well-connected but in the midst of negotiating one of the most advanced (and ethically and diplomatically questionable) nationwide wifi plans ever to be implemented, 11.9 million lack the basic digital literacy to use the internet. Just under half of that number have never made use of the net whatsoever: never gone online to make an order, book a movie, hunt for a deal, use an app, connect with a distant friend.
Some would dispute the presence of the notion of universal internet access on a bill of primary human rights, but the fact is, with the comprehensive digitisation of our world, the internet and a lack of ability to access it not only reflects broader patterns of poverty and social exclusion — those things whose status as human rights concerns few would argue against- but actively helps to compound them.
That’s where the likes of Helen Milner and the Good Things Foundation come in. In her role as the foundation’s chief executive, Milner has helped build the UK based NGO into an international operation, working nationwide as well as in Australia and Kenya, trying to bring digital literacy to those without.
There’s no circumventing the web anymore, and issues of inequality vital to our modern social equation are bound up in it. Without web access, it’s impossible to educate ourselves as to the issues of our day, to exercise our bargaining power as free citizens among capital, to engage with a world of opportunities both professional and personal. Without being literate in its use, we cannot build with it, we cannot explore it truly, we cannot protect ourselves against its bevy of deceptions that would jeopardise our political, social and financial safety.
Beliefs such as these are chief to Helen’s work, the work of the Foundation as a whole, and it’s these beliefs that she sat down to discuss with us.