THE BLOG

I'm Dreaming Of A Wifi Free Christmas

18/12/2016 17:48
iSergey via Getty Images

During the Christmas and New Year period, many people choose to take regular breaks from the indulgences of food and drink popular at this time of year. Similarly, I'm hoping to cut back on another great addiction of our time: technology and the internet.

Like much of the UK, I rely on the internet to enable both my business and personal lives. It's made me wonder: how long I can get by without my phone or tablet? I usually have them nearby during most waking hours. Am I one of the 49 percent of Brits who can't cope without a smartphone for more than a day? Sadly, the answer is probably yes.

I expect to find a digital detox tricky, as I am in the sweet spot for technology making my life more convenient and connected, with few downsides. Yet a survey of over 1,500 UK adults has highlighted how there are two extremes to internet usage, both of which can lead to social isolation.

For men aged 25-34, the reliance on social media and apps has left 43% seeing friends in person much less often as they would like. At the other end of the spectrum, the ONS reports that 11% of UK households don't have any internet access, meaning they are left without any of the advantages it can bring. This figure rises to 47% among single pensioners.

The isolation technology can create is damaging not only to those individuals directly affected, but also to our society as a whole. We miss out on their experiences and knowledge. For example, what if schools lists of approved retired people who children could Skype when they need help with their homework?

Before she passed away, my Grandmother used the internet to check her bridge club schedule and kept in touch with friends and family across the world over email. All it took was one of her younger relatives to demystify the technology around the internet. Christmas time, when generations come together, would be the perfect time for this exchange of skills.

There's also an opportunity for businesses to help. Programmes like Barclay's Digital Eagles help get people of all ages online and comfortable not just with banking services but also applications like video calls and email that reduce social isolation and improve well-being. For the bank, it helps move more of their customer base online, allowing them to reduce costs in high-street branches and invest elsewhere.

As well as being able to get online, people need to feel like they are safe and that their privacy is protected when using the internet. Consumers' lack of trust in online privacy was evident in the results of the Oliver Wyman research, with 57 percent of internet users worried about sharing personal information online. Perhaps this is fuelled by the introduction of the Snoopers' Charter and that in October 2016 The Telegraph reported that, in response to hacking concerns, UK government ministers are barred from wearing SmartWatches during Cabinet meetings.

In response, companies of all kinds not only need to prioritise cyber security, but also be vocal about what consumer data they collect, why, and how that information is protected. Transparency and honesty will help reduce consumer distrust.

At home, it will be important to explain to family members who are new internet users about when providing credit card numbers and other personal information is necessary, when it isn't, and how banks and retailers protect customers' personal information.

For me, I have already done a batch of gift buying online - for some purchases it's far quicker and easier than braving some of the shops at this time of year. In the (distant) future, I am aware I may become less mobile, and internet shopping will enable me to remain independent for longer. But if by then we have moved on to robots doing our shopping and cooking for us, I am hopeful a relative or neighbour will help me programme my bot to avoid Brussels sprouts.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS