Connectedness should not negate the right to an analog life
2020–22 will surely be remembered as the 24 months when a majority of the world has felt connected but united in adversity: united against the COVID pandemic, which remains the singular event whose ripple effects have touched 8 billion of us more or less at the same time; united in righteous indignation against the senseless war provoked by Russia in Ukraine, a conflict with consequences far beyond the borders of Europe in terms of energy prices and access to food (Ukraine’s role as the breadbasket to the world had been taken for granted); and finally united in witnessing the mounting climate threats: record heat in the summer of 2022 as well as devastating floods in Pakistan, while Iran’s and the wider Middle East’s access to water is increasingly challenged.
A high percentage of this connectedness we feel is secured by our digital way of life: 5 billion of us are internet users, 4 billion are mobile internet users and there are 11 billion mobile connections worldwide. These connections allow us to work remotely, to access more data than ever and to generally live fuller lives: families spread around the world can see grandkids grow up live via video calls, virtual classes can be made up of students in Montréal and Kenya working together and more.
Yet this connectedness is also a potential weakness as the digital way of life is not universal. When COVID lockdowns first struck, countries such as France required the population to download a self-reported authorization to leave their homes. Little heed was made of the significant percentage of tech adverse or tech challenged citizens. The same is true in Canada when it came time to schedule vaccinations: the population was directed to an online platform that was surely complex to navigate for those whose digital literacy is not advanced.
The digitization of basic citizen services: access to a doctor via telehealth, renewing official documents and filing and paying taxes all seem like a worthwhile goal, yet prove extremely challenging to many and negate the right to an analog life.
The increase in digital basic services, as well as other daily interactions (e-commerce for example) should be balanced by a recognition that digital literacy is akin to basic literacy: there’s more widespread shame than one realizes about people’s true abilities, and purported surveys discount the fact that respondents overestimate their digital prowess.
Digitization should also recognize the right to an analog life for citizens who are skipping online lives for all sorts of reasons. Finally, cost savings touted by governments and large institutions such as banks accelerating the outlawing of paper pose another issue: as we collectively depend on mobile and internet access to what constitutes our official administrative lives, what happens in case of a widespread and prolonged outage ?
As natural disasters become commonplace and strain both the electric grid and our telecoms networks, it’s time for analog alternatives to be mandated, for our collective security and peace of mind.