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Posted by Sarah Brown on 12 Aug '13

The Digital revolution – a triumph or a threat to the most disadvantaged?

{img_title} It’s very confusing. New figures show the number of adults using the internet daily has more than doubled in the past seven years (source I 9th August). 36 million adults (73%) use the internet daily up from 35% in 2006. And figures show that 61% connect while “on the go” using a mobile phone, laptop or tablet.

At the same time for the poorest and most excluded the digital era seems to be excluding them even more so should we celebrate or worry?

The impact of technology can be illustrated by thinking about something as simple as a lunch club for the elderly. In the nineteenth century communication would have been by word of mouth, maybe meeting at the church or the shop. The funding by money or in kind might have been from the church or the lord of the manor.

With the impact of the phone potentially people could be rung to be reminded  and between lunches the old people could keep in contact by phone. Of course in fact the was the beginning of exclusion by limited access to technology as phone ownership was not common for almost a century after it was invented unless you were well off. Middle class volunteers could be coordinated by phone but there was little impact on how the lunch might be funded.

It took almost a 100 years for the next big leap forward the launch of the digital revolution – the era of the web – the static web. Generally broadcast from one to many through a website or email. This did allow a major step forward in fund raising – “the donate now” button on the website which continues to be the digital method which still attracts the most funds. However again access initially was limited however the children of the old people might  learn about the lunch club and tell their parents.
The social web has come next . Now the people at the lunch club were able to chat on facebook so the group can exist beyond  the lunch. Even old technology like the phone has developed and using teleconference technology isolated old people can feel included. 

And so to the third age of the digital world, the mobile web where you can check when the lunch club is on on your mobile, book and order your food, take a photo at the lunch that you share then and there, and  someone can donate over the phone to support the lunch their mother attends.

The multiple ways to communicate make is easier to meet the needs of multiple audiences, can provide ways of increasing social impact and tracking it, and are accessible to many at often just the ‘cost’ of the time to do it.
So what do I conclude – like anything the digital era provides opportunities and threats so charities need to capitalise on it checking with a digital audit,  potentially creating a strategy with the Digital Prioritiser© and a plan with the Digital Marketing Discovery Process© and they need to remember there will always people who don't have phones, don’t have computers and need to  talk to real people.