The publication of doteveryone’s fantastic 2018 Digital Understanding Report is of particular interest, highlighting that ‘Digital understanding is not about being able to code, it’s about being able to cope. It is about adapting to, questioning and shaping the way technologies are changing the world.’
The report sets out a definition of digital understanding as a separate from the development of basic digital skills. ‘Digital understanding is about appreciating these impacts of technologies – how they shape people’s lives and society as a whole.’ The statistics throughout the report are eye-opening, highlighting ‘digital blindspots’ for the individual as worker and consumer and member of society, which inhibit the ability to question the implication of technology.
Within a societal context, only 1% of those questioned have sufficient digital understanding to considering how online debates can have a broader societal impact or how to exercise their own information rights. The same percentage is unaware of the impact of media manipulation methods and techniques such as bots or understand why filter bubbles are created and able to find ways to overcome them. This, in turn, continues to perpetuate a balance of power weighted heavily in favour of those creating technology and online platforms- of those gathering data and influencing the individual. It’s concerning reading, and the call to action rooted within the report should be taken seriously in order to address digital inclusion and meaningful civic participation at all levels:
Methodologically, doteveryone has worked hard in the creation of this research to engage individuals who have limited use of the internet through extensive offline engagement including telephone interviews and face to face focus groups. It would be interesting also to understand the correlation between those interviewed and whether they already face additional barriers to social inclusion, as those even further away from digital – with even weaker digital understanding- have even more to lose, as they are often those most in need of public sector support and services. Some of this detail is examined in the online survey data demographics which does take into account the social grading of respondents, but primarily addresses employment, which is only one possible indicator.
A lack of digital understanding for those already pushed to the edge, coupled with limited ability to make use of basic digital skills further deepens a pre-existing imbalance of power, further affecting and disenfranchising the most vulnerable: it’s everyone’s responsibility to call those to account who are creating the digital structures underpinning society, and support each other in developing greater digital understanding.