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Addressing the digital divide

Over the last few weeks, you would have been hard pressed to miss the flurry of media coverage on Fairfax Media and News Limited. While news of significant job losses in both companies shocked the sector, there has been robust discussion about both companies remodelling from traditional print formats to digital platforms and the social implications of these changes. Topics such as ‘digital inclusion’, ‘digital literacy’ and the ‘digital divide’ have been on the radar and are of particular significance as news corporations extend their reach of digital platforms.

In the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2010-11 report on Household Use of Information Technology, 87 per cent of the 13.3 million people who reported accessing the internet at home, used the internet for research, news and general browsing. Fairfax’s audience are accessing digital content via the web, tablets and mobile devices and use of digital platforms to access online content has seen significant growth over the last few years.

The way people engage with information and technology has been changing significantly over the past 10 years, and the demand for digital content is only increasing. The digital revolution is not new, it is clear that the internet has superseded traditional media formats and it is important that organisations don’t overlook the impact of technological advancements in their business models. Equally, as news, information and social interactions increasingly take place online, it is important to ensure that digital access and digital literacy issues are addressed to create a more socially inclusive society where no one gets left behind in the digital era.

The ABS reports that home internet access is more common in households with higher incomes, and almost half of the lowest income earners don’t have internet access at home. The internet can provide an ideal space for disadvantaged communities to access news and information resources, share knowledge, stay informed, access free applications and software and connect with community and health services, politicians and local councillors.

Infoxchange’s Digital Inclusion Initiative (DII) aims to deliver affordable access to computers and the internet to all Australians. DII has implemented a range of projects over the past decade to improve the quality of life for disadvantaged communities. The initiatives include Wired Communities, yarraReporter, e-ACE and GreenPC and provide ICT access and training, develop civic journalism projects and educate residents about social media. The Wired Community projects have supplied public housing resident in Melbourne with internet access via a wireless mesh network. The DII focuses on delivering information and communication technology for economic, social, and cultural benefits.

With the support of the State Library of Victoria, Infoxchange is currently delivering a program to train public housing estate residents how to use social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs. ‘Digital access and literacy aren’t just ‘nice to haves’ anymore, they are becoming a prerequisite of modern life’, said Mark Egan, Digital Media and Communications Officer at Infoxchange.

It is essential that disadvantaged groups are able to access affordable technology, improve their digital literacy and understand the value of online engagement. Staying informed through news and information platforms is important to the way we engage with our community. As everyday interactions, such as paying bills and engaging with social groups, moves further into a digital space it is important that the digital divide is addressed in order to create a truly inclusive society.

For more information:

www.digitalinclusion.net.au

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