After a few hours of mild panic when the lock-down was first announced here in L.A., I came to realize that while C2 was likely to encounter some new challenges and hazards, we were probably one of few companies that were operating in a fashion that left us relatively unaffected by work-at-home mandates, and our services positioned us to assist other companies to survive (and thrive, in some cases) in this new pandemic world order. Unfortunately for many others lockdown life is shining a harsh spotlight on the technology divide that is affecting wide swaths of our population in new and challenging ways.
More than physical isolation
Work at home, learn at home, and limits on physical gathering and traveling put a painful, merciless and indiscriminate emphasis on technology, and the bar is set fairly high for the average family. Distance learning requires each student have access to a computer and internet for several hours each day at minimum, and in households with only one computer and multiple kids and working parents, that is essentially unsustainable without endangering everyone’s sanity, and is a large, unspoken motivation for the push to send kids back to school, Covid-or-no. Most districts can barely afford to equip their schools with proper equipment, let alone send a decent laptop home for every child and properly train faculty who have been teaching traditionally for decades. Buying more computers is a nice thought, and they are cheaper than they have ever been, but how do you add to a budget that is probably already constrained and maybe even limited because of Covid-related employment issues?
Other populations that are also highly impacted:
- The Elderly – even though they may be able to afford the technology needed to survive in a locked down society does not mean that they can make effective use of it. When things break or don’t function as they should, they are working with service providers that cannot (or won’t) visit in person and who expect a certain level of knowledge and (let’s face it) enthusiasm that this population just wasn’t prepared to achieve. Substituting physical interactions and everyday transactions (like grocery shopping!) with complicated devices and bewildering service choices puts our older generations at a significant disadvantage (and risk!) in what was already a challenging situation pre-pandemic.
- The Differently-Abled – there are large swathes of our communities that don’t have the capacity to limit their livelihoods and entertainment to internet-enabled devices, and who relied upon physical socializing as their primary form of engagement. Maintaining a mobile or internet account requires a certain amount of financial independence and consistency that is difficult to achieve in group homes, which were already running on shoestring budgets prior to Covid. Now they have to contend with residents who are bored, have limited access to their usual outlets, and sometimes incapable of understanding why can’t go out like before. Services like Social Security and MediCal don’t pay for smartphones and data plans – food and shelter come first, and there usually isn’t much afterwards.
- The Homeless – I’m sure all of us have spotted at least one homeless person with a smartphone. Being homeless doesn’t mean you can’t have stuff, and let’s face it, if you are trying to overcome homelessness, having a phone is non-negotiable. But how do you afford to have one if the menial jobs you were working to try and get over the hump have dried up? Even if you were qualified to work at a job that could be done at home, where would you work, and on what computer with what internet connection? The bandwidth-capped hotspot on your limited mobile plan that gets devoured within days of each new month because everything in life requires the internet now?
What can you do?
Some of these problems are way bigger than any of us individually. Even together, before Covid, we didn’t seem to be making much progress on solving the wealth gap that drives such a heartless wedge into our increasingly technology-reliant society. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try – here are some things you can do:
- If you can afford it, and were on the fence about buying a new computer or phone, factor into that decision whether donating your old device may be useful to someone less fortunate, or whether by giving that device to someone in your family allows them to pass along a device to someone who really needs it. If you are donating any device, make sure you remove your personal data, or have a professional do it for you. Keep in mind that most mobile devices, video game consoles, and even computers, require some form of internet service to be truly useful. Giving your devices to someone who may not be able to afford to use them effectively or maintain the necessary data plan may end up being an unexpected burden.
- Volunteer your time, expertise, or both to a non-profit focused on serving your community or locality. Even if you can’t participate physically right now because of social distancing restrictions, helping them achieve goals that are literally close to you will be satisfying even as we are surrounded by frustrating circumstances. Also never forget that you likely know someone else that can help. All non-profits can benefit from expanding their human networks!
Image by thedarknut from Pixabay