Internet Access is Disconnecting the Poorest from Society

One of my strongest memories of being in year seven at school was one of my most humiliating.

It was in an IT class – back in a time when the curriculum consisted of learning to open a word doc – a far throw from today’s complex coding lessons.

At the end of the lesson, we were assigned homework (probably something utterly useless when you consider how intuitive tech is today). However, it involved the internet.

“Is there anyone here that doesn’t have the internet?” asked the teacher in front of everyone.

Radio silence. Everyone looked round to check for hands.

I was the only one that put my hand up. The teacher had to give me alternative homework.

It was the first experience I’d ever had of feeling poor. I felt embarrassed.

Prior to secondary school, I’d never realised that perhaps I’d grown up with less wealth than some of my peers. When you’re a younger child who’s fed, clothed, and entertained, the disparity between you and your friends isn’t always obvious.

But my entry into secondary school had coincided with tech becoming a basic commodity. My £20 phone that I’d begged my parents for as a birthday present next to everyone else’s LG Cookies had made it abundantly clear the difference in our wealth.

That incident with the IT teacher was the only time I was offered alternative homework. After that, I had to convince one of my parents to traipse down to the local library in the evening with me so that I could do my homework.

Meanwhile, my peers could easily whip their homework up from the comfort of their home. Yes, I could still do my homework, but the energy it took for me to reach the same results as a student doing theirs at home weren’t equal.

It was more than a matter of convenience. It would extend my evenings so I was tired for the next day at school. I’d have to fit in with my parents’ schedule so I couldn’t do homework when I was in the right mindset to produce good work.

Bright future buffering

I remember the day we finally got a computer. It was old, grey, and boxy, but it didn’t matter. It was exciting, because it didn’t just mean I could play Sims and message mates on MSN. It meant that I could be included in the same experiences as my classmates, and these experiences included opportunities.

Year seven was a long time ago for me now. However, poor access to the internet is still a big issue, as was proven by the huge amount of school children from lower socio-economic households left without access to online education throughout the pandemic.

Access to the internet has become a bargaining chip for opportunities. However, to play the game you must make the upfront investment which can be unaffordable for people that have been dealt unfair cards in life.

Technology can be a marvellous thing. There’s so much inclusivity to be had from being connected to the virtual world. But if you’re sat on the raw edge of disconnect, it’s incredibly isolating and difficult to escape from. I fear the gap will only get bigger as digital-only transcends into vital services – such as universal credit services, job applications, doctor’s appointments, education, and even cash-free shops.

It can be easy to forget the importance of the internet because it’s become so constant within most of our lives. However, reflecting on my own career, it’s hard to imagine how things would have turned out if I didn’t have the connections, jobs, and monetary gains I’ve made from many hours behind a laptop (the less glamourous side of being a journalist).

The internet has enabled me to have a voice (as is evidenced by this column), and I think that’s something that everyone should be entitled to.

Image via Canva.

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