The connected issue: how to bridge the digital divide

Digital connections have changed our lives – but while some struggle to keep up and others to switch off, people in many parts of the world are still excluded.

Welcome to our connected issue. This month, we focus on the digital divide and how it can be bridged with policies, programmes or projects. Half the world is concerned about the problems that digital connectivity brings yet the other half suffers from a lack of digital connectivity. The internet these days is not just about economic development – it empowers and connects people too.

There are many digital divides across the world: by age, gender, geography, wealth and more. What would it take to get the other half of the world connected? Can we connect everyone? Keri Allan investigates the worldwide digital divide. But this divide is not just a problem for the developing world. It’s a problem in the developed world too. E&T’s publisher, the IET, is a co-founder of the the UK Digital Poverty Alliance, which has just launched its Evidence Review report to help formulate the National Delivery Plan to tackle the digital divide in the UK. “Digital is a basic right,” it states, yet some groups tend to still be excluded. Hilary Clarke looks at the specific problem of age and why we need to give more thought to the needs of the elderly when we design our systems and processes.

Tim Fryer looks at one possible solution: Starlink, which is launching thousands of satellites into orbit to bring connectivity to remote places around the world. But it’s controversial if only because it involves Elon Musk and we know from experience that anything we publish about Musk tends to divide opinion and fill our inboxes.  

Anyone who has tried to take their teenage kids on holiday to a remote cottage will have learnt the hard way what it is to deprive the younger generation of Wi-Fi. And let’s face it, we all miss it if we’re without it for a day or two. Perhaps that’s why more people are deliberately making the break with digital technology – in some ways. Helena Pozniak meets the off-gridders – part of a growing movement of people choosing to go self-sufficient and get away from it all. She discovers it’s a lot of work, involves some tricky technology and can be expensive to start with.

What makes the British who they are? It’s a much debated and politically charged issue but one defining characteristic must surely be our obsession with the weather. That usually amounts to endless, obvious and pointless observations of how wet, cold or windy it is. But recently we’ve had another kind of weather to talk about as the UK sizzled in record-breaking July temperatures of over 40°C. Readers in the hotter climes will wonder what the fuss was all about, but you see we’re just not used to it and we’re not prepared. Our homes are designed to keep the warmth in, the wind and rain out. They’re not so well designed to handle the beating sun, and last month we had to resort to measures like putting ice cubes in front of fans and other such ‘life-hacks’ (or household tips as they used to be known).

The record highs have focused more attention on what can be done in the longer run to design our homes for the hotter, wetter conditions we can expect in the future without making them worse through more carbon emissions. That means measures to help our homes cope with climate change without contributing more to it. Beatriz Valero de Urquia looks at engineering solutions to overheating, old and new.

It’s just one more factor to consider in the endlessly complex challenge of building a more sustainable infrastructure for the future. Is a net-zero 2050 possible? Chris Edwards looks at the complexities in getting us there.

Graphic on record temperatures in Australia

Image credit: Graphic News

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