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Who is being left out online? Professor Simeon Yates is the director of the Centre for Digital Humanities and Social Science at the University of Liverpool. For almost 30 years, he has researched the impact of the internet on language and culture. He is a leading expert on digital exclusion.

Simeon appeared on the University of Liverpool Podcast to discuss how people are negatively impacted by a lack of access to the internet, and how the state and other institutions must change their assumptions about internet access.

5 steps to reducing digital exclusion

  1. Only by knowing the cause can we look at the consequences
    It’s easy to believe that the internet has changed the way we all do things – from fulfilling simple tasks like online shopping and banking, through to social activities such as listening to music, watching television and gaming.

    But as Simeon points out, that assumption is mistaken. In fact, the full internet experience is generally only available to the wealthy. Many people’s experience is much more restricted, particularly if they can’t afford broadband at home or rely on a smartphone to get online.

    He says: “Digital exclusion is all about those different levels of inequality, and for me the real question is: ‘what are the consequences?’”
  2. We must recognise the disadvantages for those without digital access
    One of the most striking consequences of digital exclusion, says Simeon, is the prominence of an economic theory called the ‘poverty premium’.

    In real life, the poverty premium appears in all sorts of scenarios. If, for example, you cannot afford to own a car, then you are often unable to travel to a major supermarket and instead have to shop at more expensive local shops that you can walk to.

    The same is true online: for shopping, for holidays, and for many other products and services, the price online is cheaper than at traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers. So, if you don’t have online access you are forced to pay more for many products and services because the online option isn’t available to you.
  3. We need to start understanding the long-term effects
    Digital exclusion has significant impact beyond the financial, Simon argues.

    He suggests that schools who assume their pupils have internet access at home are inadvertently creating unequal educational outcomes for their students – which in turn leads to disadvantages in adulthood and working lives.

    Simeon says: “One of the issues about digital exclusion is that… it’s becoming more and more bound up with other types of inclusion and exclusion.”
  4. Solving these issues will involve intense critical thought
    The starting point, says Simeon, is for organisations to consider carefully if they are making things worse by using technology.

    For example, an employment benefit in the UK called Universal Credit involves a long application form designed to be completed on a computer. Those who provide incorrect information can be fined £50.

    However, poorer citizens often only have access to the internet through a smartphone. This makes it harder for them to fill in the form and more likely to result in them making mistakes or omissions.

    Simeon says: “A lot of government policy designed to alleviate or address issues of inequality… starts from the assumption that we can use technology to help solve it. And that’s something… we need to think about more as social scientists.”
  5. Society’s cohesion could depend on our response
    The broader concern, says Simeon, is the potential for digital exclusion to foster a societal polarisation that only increases over time. Those with the ability to afford high-speed internet access a world of information and cultural experiences could become cut off from those without.

    “One of the key concerns is that we could end up with a very stratified population with very different experiences of the world,” says Simeon.

About this podcast

The University of Liverpool Podcast aims to bring listeners closer to some of the academic experts, authors and innovative thinkers from the University who, through their in-depth analyses, research and discoveries, are affecting positive change in the world today. Each episode features one or more of our academic experts discussing research in their specialist field. Subscribe to the University of Liverpool Podcast via iTunes, Tunein and Google Play Music (US and Canada only).

Interested in exploring ways we can use technology to give more access rather than exclude? Learning more about the University of Liverpool’s online Computer Science programmes.

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