Ever tried to book a flight online, made a mistake and then found that either there was no one available to help you fix it or that it was just going to cost you more anyway? I have, while experiencing the fury that everyone feels at the helplessness and injustice of it all.
I would consider myself to be relatively computer and internet literate. However this era of new technology and electronic media excludes vast numbers of people and disadvantages them terribly.
I’m thinking mainly of the elderly, the poor and those without computer skills. We’ve all heard of septuagenarians unable to use ATMs or perhaps seen the movie I Daniel Blake by Ken Loach. It is a frightening portrayal of Britain’s equivalent to Centrelink and the tragedy that ensues when a man, unable to find work through the internet, is locked out by a heartless, bureaucratic system.
We have seen how our own Centrelink has become more and more like its British counterpart. The number of staff is continuously cut through ongoing productivity measures, while poorly-equipped, unemployed workers are forced to apply online for support and payments using extremely complex forms that even the most computer literate find challenging. When they ring or try to get help in person, every barrier is placed before them, in the hope that they will just give up and walk away. Meanwhile conservative governments clap their hands with glee as unemployment rates decrease, not in fact but in appearance.
Recently my sister told me of another example that shows just how exclusionary the use of new technology can be. She was complaining that writing reports for her primary school class had become a real nightmare.
First, the reports are so extensive now that pages and pages are written about each child. A report for one child takes hours to complete and most teachers are not sure if parents even want to read that amount of “education speak” information about their child.
Secondly, her school, in conjunction with Education Department edicts, has now decided there will be no more hard copies of reports, only electronic copies sent by email.
She works in one of Melbourne’s more disadvantaged south eastern suburbs. The school community is very multicultural, has little disposable income and lots of unemployment. The perfect mix of disadvantage indicators that mean scarce resources are spent on food and clothing not internet access or computers.
So if the school thought they had a problem with their reporting system when they were sending out hard copies, you can imagine the sorts of problems they have now. Teachers spend weeks writing reports that many parents will never access. Alienation and anger increases on both sides.
This is yet another example of how unjust, impersonal and alienating new technology can become in the hands of bureaucratic systems dedicated to cutting corners and meeting quotas rather than serving the needs of the people they were set up to service.
Here at Green Left Weekly, we often hear horror stories like this. We also have regular debates about the pros and cons of social media, hard copy news versus online and why some people prefer one medium to another or why they might prefer to have access to both.
And we’ve decided that we want to do both. GLW is presented both online and in hard copy. You can subscribe electronically or receive a hard copy. Or perhaps you might prefer to meet your friendly seller at their regular spot each week and catch up on all the latest politics in person. We are still one of the few media outlets where you get a consistently progressive view of the world, written by activists, for activists.
Of course this diversity of production costs money. And we are forever in need. So next time you feel like putting your fist through the phone when a robot asks you to hold the line for the 500th time or the online form you are completing times out, yet again, just consider how user friendly Green Left Weekly is and why you need that weekly dose of reality to bring you back to Earth.
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