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Should government provide computers and broadband?

Posted Aug 24 2013 6:54am

Yesterday afternoon I spotted this gem:-

“Government should do more to get ‘marginalised’ older people online.”

To which I should like to respond with a few questions:-

What business is it of government?

Who decides they’re “marginalised”? This isn’t simply a function of ageing. Nor, indeed, is it necessarily much to do with not being online – marginalisation can take many forms.

And who says they want to be online in the first place?

I know many people older than me who have been involved with PCs since the dark days of MS-DOS,** and earlier (and whether you think Bill Gates is a saint or a sinner, there’s no denying that Windows opened up computing to the masses – and I’ve used Windows since v3.1 (when I couldn’t have used a MS-DOS-based machine if you’d put a gun in my ear), omitting ME and Vista along the way.

**For those of you who are too young, MS-DOS = Microsoft Disk Operating System.

I’m now on Win7 and that’s as far as I’m prepared to go, especially now the house of cards that is Win8 is about to come crashing down with the discovery of a back door leading directly into the NSA archives .

Anyway, touch-screen technology is smearily annoying on a smartphone or tablet – I sure as hell don’t want anything bigger to get covered in greasy fingermarks.

And please – don’t use the comments section as an anti-Microsoft platform, or pro-Linux.

Having access to the World Wide Web – not the Internet as is so often erroneously supposed – the latter being a network of military and academic computers designed to survive a relatively modest nuclear exchange (modest because it does pre-suppose that enough people will survive to use it), upon which the Web piggy-backs – is not a right.

Like a TV, or a car, it’s technology you are at liberty to buy into should you so desire, and be able to afford it. It’s not a “human right”. Nor is it the government’s place to spend taxpayers’ money providing equipment for other taxpayers whom, left to their own devices, might well never have evinced the slightest interest in the technology.

And being, by any definition, an “older person” who is not remotely marginalised – because I chose not to be – I have, over the years, bought, replaced and upgraded, as necessary, a variety of computers, software, and the requisite connections to the Web out of my disability benefits. Being disabled I assumed that this was what my DLA was for, at least in part, as being online made my life very much easier.  My DLA will lease me a car so, logically, I see no impediment to it funding mobility of a rather more virtual nature – makes perfect sense to me.

Hell, I was shopping online when the Tesco online store came on a CD that you had to collect from the physical store and install on your own computer. It was then subsequently updated every time you logged in – and wasn’t that fun on a dial-up connection!?

But it worked, and it worked well and then, as now, Tesco were the only company (not sure about Asda), who accepted that customers had a right to choose substitutions if they didn’t have what we wanted in stock – Sainsbury’s Ocado, et al are still playing catch-up today, having failed utterly to grasp the principle, and the Co-op will deliver your shopping only if you can go and do it in person, which strikes me as perverse in the extreme – if I can shop in person I can sure as hell bring it home with me.

At no point, though, did I want anyone to lobby central government on my behalf for funding, nor do I think it is appropriate now. And sure as hell not without asking me first whether I actually want them to!

We all know, by now, about Cameron’s half-arsed online censorship plans – so does anyone seriously think that any government-supplied or sponsored PCs won’t be riddled with spyware? If I were Cameron I’d seize the opportunity as a test-bed, before rolling out the technology nationwide.  And the first step would be, as with TVs, that all computer sales would be notified to a central authority. Licensed too, I shouldn’t wonder.

And no, none of that means I’m in favour of censorship – quite the opposite. I have said, publicly, that I would opt-in to online porn if the alternative meant submitting to censorship.

Looked at from a purely financial perspective, this whole idea is a crock. Why should I, or anyone else who has made the cash investment needed to stay abreast of computer technology out of a very limited income, and to get the basic principles of online shopping off the ground in the first place** lose out while people who had previously shown no interest whatsoever get free PCs and broadband?

**The reason you can now indulge yourself to a positively ludicrous degree while shopping online is due in no small part to people like me, the early adopters,  who have been there since the first rattly “ting” of the first virtual cash-register. I have  – most recently over my Kindle collection – been mocked for jumping in at the deep end and embracing new technology, but it’s we who drive the technology forward, not the smug Luddites who lurk in the wings lest there be bugs!

But I digress – a regular failing, I fear – and as I said, I think the idea is completely wrong-headed but, if it’s going to happen anyway, I’d like my slice of the pie too, thank you so much! Used notes will be fine.

First, though, we need to find out how many people are truly feeling aggrieved by not being online because I’m guessing that by now, anyone who genuinely wants to be already is, with the exception of those who have fallen victim to the cuts and the bedroom tax and can no longer afford it. Look, Cameron, you thick bastard, if it was a spare room supplement, as you claim, you’d be paying US! But we are paying you, therefore it’s a tax – and anyway, people in social housing already pay increased rent, as well as council tax, if they have more than one bedroom – did you conveniently forget about that?

However, the notion of free computers is now out there – has been since Martha Lane Fox floated the idea – and it’s a bell that cannot ever be un-rung. There is, therefore, no way of getting an honest answer to the question “If you had to buy your own hardware, software, peripherals, and broadband connection,  and keep them all up to date indefinitely, would you do so?”

Not when they know they just have to wait a while and Dave and Martha would probably be along with freebies!

I do foresee several problems, though. Firstly, if free computers are on offer, then they should go to the unemployed as a priority, as should any training schemes, to enhance their employment prospects, not to the allegedly marginalised older people who mostly, I suspect, couldn’t give a toss (and “older” does NOT automatically equal “poor” or “marginalised”, while being unemployed pretty much guarantees both).

The serious downside, if you are chronically sick and disabled, would be that if you accept a free or even subsidised PC, and instruction in what to do with it (and we also have to accept that for some people, PCs will forever be Terra Incognita, in much the same way as some can’t cook and others can’t drive), then doubtless IDS will move the goal-posts yet again, and arrange things so that, in accepting this largesse, you will be declaring yourself fit for work – a kite Nadine Dorries has tried to fly on more than one occasion, claiming that bloggers are capable of work because if they can sit up in bed and pound a keyboard they can go out to work.  Whatever planets Dorries and IDS inhabit, they much be very strange and malign places.

And – it’s worth reiterating, in closing – age is never a good reason for assuming someone is being deprived of something simply because they don’t have it – they might not bloody well want it!


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