Technology Exacerbates The Digital Divide

We all got used to scanning QR codes in order to access menus at the few restaurants we dined at (outdoors) during the height of the pandemic. Actually, only some of us did. Others were left to either ask for a menu (sorry, no) or rely on the one person in our group who knew how the darn thing worked.

That problem for the technophobe only worsened as companies like Walt Disney World and McDonald's leaned into covid-free chatbots and kiosks. According to a report in Wired, about 3 billion people or 37% of the world's population have never used the internet. But increasingly, they are being forced to do so -- and at an ever-increasing cost.

Broadband costs about $80 a month in the U.S., per FCC data, and many can't afford good-quality, high-speed internet. “It’s not just an age thing,” Hannah Smethurst, a trainee solicitor and research assistant specializing in digital law at Thorntons Law, tells Wired. “It’s an economic background thing.”

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Such a digital divide forces people to go farther afield to find, say, a physical bank since those institutions have closed many of their local branches. On the plus side, however, Digital Planet found that a 1% hike in broadband access in the U.S. resulted in a 0.1% decline in covid death rates -- partly because of an increase in access to telehealthcare.

Smethurst suggests that businesses like restaurants be incentivized to offer offline alternatives like physical menus. But government needs to help decrease the cost of getting access to digital services as well. In the end, she says, "we need to have cheaper smartphones."

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