In an open letter celebrating the birthday of the web Tim Berners-Lee and co-author, Rosemary Leith have called for better connectivity for young people in order to build a better post Covid world.
The pandemic prevented face-to-face social interaction, leading to a boom in line activity. After the UK went into lockdown on March 23rd 2020, ecommerce saw a boom in online orders. With restaurants unable to open, people rediscovered the joys of cooking from home, which boosted grocery sales. For instance, online recipe site, Gousto, saw orders increase 600% as a result of people buying dinners to make at home during the lockdown.
But the pandemic also highlighted the huge gaps that exist in society. Stories emerged of school children lacking the most basic PC and internet connectivity needed to take lessons at home.
In their letter, Berners-Lee and Leith said that when young people do get online, too often they are confronted with abuse, misinformation, and other dangerous content, which threatens their participation and can force them from platforms altogether. In the letter the pair wrote: “The consequences of this exclusion affects everyone. How many brilliant young minds fall on the wrong side of the digital divide? How many voices of would-be leaders are being silenced by a toxic internet? Every young person who can’t connect represents a lost opportunity for new ideas and innovations that could serve humanity.”
In his book, Born Digital, Robert Wigley, chairman of UK Finance, explores how young people born in the age of the internet are very different to previous generations. In Born Digital, he describes how they snack on multiple information sources and are less likely to engage in a way that would enable them to see physically in their friends’ faces the impact of what they have said He says that children are cyber socialising in a way that is very different to how kids used to socialise. While appearing to connect people, for Wigley, social media actually leads to less face-to-face time and can affect mental wellbeing.
Ubiquitous connectivity is something everyone will need to face up to. For the generation of children born in the age of the internet, the web and social media, connectivity are considered life necessities, just as the automobile became a right of passage for young people growing up in the 1950s and 60s. And just as a car can cause injury and death, children must be protected from the toxicity and lies that seem to seep into internet conversations.