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How COVID-19 Will Tip the Scales of the Digital Divide

It is no question that we are living in interesting times and that access to technology in our homes is more important than ever. The ability to use, understand, and create using technology or digital tools is the definition of the term ‘digital literacy’. Under this definition, it might surprise you to know that as of 2012, approximately 1 in 4 Canadians between the ages of 16 and 65 are not digitally literate. That’s about 6 million people with a seriously limited ability to participate in Canadian life as a worker, consumer, and citizen. And these same people are at a higher risk of feeling extreme isolation due to social distancing offered by the pandemic.

The ability to quickly adapt to the use of new technology and digital tools is vital to success and stability for everyone. These same skills allow us to shop online for home grocery delivery, efficiently access employment insurance (EI) if laid off due to the pandemic, and to confidently search for accurate and trustworthy sources for updates on current affairs. 

As of the last Canadian Census in 2016, 13 per cent of the population did not have a home internet subscription, and 16 per cent did not have a home computer. Although wireless connectivity may be available, internet faster than 5 megabits per second (the speed recommended for streaming HD video) at a reasonable cost per month, is often not. This significantly limits or eliminates someone’s ability to access email, banking, social media and video chat tools, as well as to catch up on current events or online shop.

Stemming from the pandemic, the speed at which government services and private business offerings have moved to online platforms is cause for applause. However, as technology keeps advancing, products and services are being designed with the assumption that we all know how to use digital tools. In reality, there are still many Canadians for whom we will need to support in-person or through timely phone services to ensure that no one is left behind.

The digitally literate are comfortable with technological change and they know how to adapt. This set of skills has become increasingly important, and when faced with a pandemic like COVID-19, these skills now seem ultimately necessary – don’t they? Digital literacy is a necessity. It is today’s new and additional form of literacy.

This crisis has great potential to exacerbate inequality on many fronts. So, I am hoping we can all help. Donate a device. Share your wi-fi. Teach someone a new skill. Let’s come together to make the digital world accessible to all.  

Margaux Miller, Winnipeg MB.



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