Today was my first day as Internet Station Manager on Nominet Trust’s Our Digital Planet Exhibition. Our Digital Planet is a touring exhibition highlighting the benefits of the internet, and the Internet Station is an portacabin where people whose interest in the internet is stimulated can come to learn more about any aspect they are unsure of. The estimable Lloyd Davis has already done a stint in the role when the Exhibition was on Brighton seafront, and he will also be guiding it in Cardiff, while I will be back in Liverpool and Glasgow. In all this, we are working with the amazing Nick Booth, and his team at Podnosh Ltd.
In truth, it was a fairly slow day, a useful gentle introduction for me to the initiative, and I was fortunate to be working alongside Kieron Kirkland and Vicki Hearn from the Trust who were able to show me the ropes. A Monday in the middle of a shopping centre, was probably always going to be a quiet day. But, already some interesting issues are starting to emerge. This is true Digital Inclusion activity. Some of the people who approached us had very little knowledge of the internet at all, Nearly all were frightened, about giving away too much information about themselves, about losing money to scams, and about breaking something. They faced multiple barriers to getting online, but a common factor was fear engendered by media scare stories.
It was evident as well, that quite a few of the people who came along had literacy problems. It amazes me that many people who promote the digital inclusion agenda fail to take into account that a fairly high degree of literacy is needed to use the internet, and that, many who don’t go online avoid it for precisely that reason. But, there were a variety of reasons for being there, and not all were total beginners; including the young woman living in a hostel who came in to look at photos of her son on Facebook because there is only one, very slow, computer in her hostel. There was the man who wanted to know how to “unfriend” someone who had been sending him threatening messages on Facebook. And there was the man who wanted to know how to search for cheap coach fares to Blackpool, before going to challenge the ticket sellers at the Bus Station to beat the online price.
One of the interesting queries was from the young woman who came in under the mistaken impression that we were selling broadband packages. She explained that she had no internet connection at home because her previous supplier had been too expensive. “I’m not paying that for broadband,” she said; “that’s a holiday”. I helped her search for a cheaper supplier. Which shows up the great irony. How do you search for the best broadband package when you don’t have access to the internet to do so?