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Au’Guest’ Blog post – Can we narrow the digital divide?

Written by Max St John, Consultant for Nixon McInnes, as part of the Wired Sussex guest blog month

I don't know about you, but I definitely take the internet for granted. I pretty much grew up with it and it’s become a big part of how I make a living. It’s become ingrained into my daily routine and my life would be very different, and much poorer, without it.

This year the United Nations’ Human Rights Council unanimously backed a resolution that stated internet access and online freedom of expression as a basic human right. What was once a luxury a few years ago has now become a basic human necessity.

This is hardly a surprise when you consider that today online is the easiest way to find jobs, apply for benefits, shop, book holidays, change electricity suppliers, find a plumber or your nearest doctor’s surgery. It’s how you’ll probably find your next house, exercise your democratic rights by writing to your MP – you might even find the mother or father of the children you haven’t yet had, all on the internet (that's one busy evening).

Being online builds your ‘social capital’ – it keeps you in touch with the people you care about most, who’ll help you struggle through your next crisis or help you celebrate your next win – and it helps you build new networks of contacts who might connect you with your next job, or become a friendly face in a strange new neighbourhood.

If you’re someone who’s at all vulnerable, whether that’s because of your age,  physical or mental illness, or because your financial situation keeps you in isolation, it’s perhaps these aspects of being online that matter most.

And this is where the irony lies – the latest figures from the ONS show that 7.82 million people in the UK have never been online and that these people are most likely to be over 65+, on £500 or less a month and/or registered disabled (get the data here). The same people who might benefit most from being online.

This is a problem that’s right on our doorstep - in Brighton and Hove, tens of thousands of people are missing out on savings, job opportunities and simple human connection.

Together we have made Brighton and Hove one of the leading digital cities in the UK – together I think we can also help our city harness the social and economic benefits of everybody being online, and give everyone the opportunities that they deserve. Personally I believe it’s within all of our best interests to do so.

At a special CityCamp event on September 17th, as part of the awesome Brighton Digital Festival, we’re bringing together people from across Brighton & Hove to seize the opportunity to help make the internet truly accessible to everyone in the city. We’re aiming to create a network of people that offer innovative solutions to the problem and partner them with the people that have the skills and the opportunity to make the solutions a reality. We’ll also be hearing about some great new proposals to install city-wide wifi, and thinking about how we can use that to support people online.

We need voices from all parts of our city, and we particularly need people with creative and technical skills, people who understand the needs of businesses in the city, and people that want to do something good.

The event runs from 10 till 6 at the Brighthelm, but you don’t have to be there for the whole day if you can’t make it. It’s free, but tickets are limited to 100 because of the size of the venue. Get your ticket here:

Hope to see you there.

(Thanks to Matt Day for some of the source material and inspiration for this post)

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