Last summer for about two weeks or so, I had major issues trying to get on the internet. Trying to get technology to actually let me online was proving very tricky. Firstly my mobile phone decided to stop working properly on Facebook, not allowing me to comment on anything or ‘like’ anything. Slowly more and more Facebook functions died. For someone who volunteers to help two local charities run their Facebook pages, this was a problem. I knew I needed a new phone; it was about five years old and slowing down. So I was using my local library computers, however they started to have their own issues. Being networked when one computer goes wrong they all start to go wrong. For most of the summer only about half the computers in the library worked and during this two week period, none decided to work at all. So I went to use my laptop at my parent’s house, where I often go as they have Wi-Fi and I do not. That was when my parent’s internet and my laptop stopped communicating. So my mum said I could use her PC instead, but it was clearly not a fault with my laptop, as her computer could also not get any Wi-Fi signal. For some reason my mum’s tablet could get online, so I managed a few of the more important tasks on that. I managed to get my internet issues sorted out eventually, but it got me thinking about how so much of modern life relies on being able to get online.
I love the internet; it helps me as an autistic person to communicate with others better and to feel connected to the world. However I can see that it is becoming an issue how so many of our services and day to day functions rely on being online. I do not have internet in my flat. Any half decent connection requires a land line, which I also do not have. So I would have to pay line rental and then broadband costs on top of that. I live on benefits, which gives me a rather limited budget and Wi-Fi in my flat would eat a significant chunk of that budget every month. I have managed by using phone data or Wi-Fi elsewhere, but society seems to revolve around the assumption everyone has good internet access. Job searching requires internet, as does applying for benefits, which means people out of work have to find a way online. I suspect this contributes to a significant number of people ending up in debt, having expensive phone contracts or taking out loans to pay for broadband.
News articles come up fairly regularly about internet access and the government role out of broadband so everyone is connected even in rural areas. They often mention internet speeds, but they hardly ever mention cost. They talk as if broadband is free, when in fact it can be pretty expensive. They can install as many fibre-optic broadband cables as they like, but without the means to pay for it or find it elsewhere it is always going to be hard for some people to get online.
It was not so bad when every town had libraries with computer access to get online, but libraries have now had significant budget cuts and some have reduced opening hours a lot or closed altogether. When I was on job seekers benefit, the staff at the job centre told us to use the library to get online if we had no internet at home, but if the opening hours are cut drastically there will be a higher demand for computers when they are open, meaning people may struggle to find a computer that is available. Internet cafes are also increasingly rare now, with most cafes having free Wi-Fi instead, relying on you having a mobile phone or tablet to use it on.
Even if you have internet access it can go wrong and stop working. On those occasions if you need to get in contact with someone it helps if you can still ring them or fill in a paper form instead. However more and more companies and services seem to be online only now. A lot of offices are now going paper free, with the claim that is to save the environment and to make accessing things like files and forms easier. This is especially the case with a lot of government services such as applying for benefits and housing. This can work very well, till you find you have no way to get online!
There are charities who try to help with internet access with free computer use or helping you to fill a form in online. However the computer use is often limited to what the charity is set up to support with, such as a housing charity only letting you on housing based support sites. My local council have free computer access in reception, but the computers are locked to certain websites such as the DWP to apply for benefits, Devon Home Choice to apply for housing, CAB charity and that kind of thing.
Another issue can be the equipment you access the internet on. Be it by laptop, tablet, phone or PC, they all have the potential to go wrong and break down. Some seem to only last a few years before they die altogether or need upgrading to work with current apps and certain websites. It is hard to keep upgrading your electronics on a budget. I am lucky that I got my latest phone as a part birthday gift from my family with me paying for some of it myself. Not everyone is this lucky. The poorest people, unless they want to end up in debt can be priced out of an increasingly paperless society.