Digital Deniers the Fight For the Right to Live Offline

Did you e-mail a friend today?  Book theater tickets or a package vacation online?  Order groceries over the Internet?


These are all perfectly normal activities, yet there are still people out there who never e-mail friends or relatives, who never make online purchases for food or flights, or books and birthday gifts.  They don’t Google or Facebook, Digg or Tweet.  They probably don’t even (Shock! Horror!) own a computer. 


These are the Digital Deniers (as in “deny,” not as in sheerness of stockings) and the government would like them to see the error of their ways.


The Quest For Simplicity


Digital Deniers are the opposite of Silver Surfers.  As the shadow of the Internet hovers over their lives like a giant and malevolent bird of prey, they just want to be left alone.  They want a life free from spamming and hacking, Trojans and cookies, advertisements for Viagra and penis enlargements, pressure from dubious loan companies and Nigerians fraudsters. 


All they want is a life offline.


In Britain there are 10 million people who have failed to join the Internet revolution.  Half of them are over the age of 65.  The phrase for these unfortunates is “excluded” – a menacing term implying rejection or being ostracized.


The Rejection of Convenience


According to the 2009 ‘Digital Britain’ report, basic broadband access should be available to every home in the UK by 2012.  As a first step, the British government has appointed Martha Lane Fox, founder of the website, as “Digital Inclusion Champion.”  Her mission is to get six million of the “excluded” online.


Ms. Lane Fox is an evangelist for the web, keen to highlight all the benefits that online life can bring, such as increased self-confidence through availability of information, greater job opportunities and enhanced earning potential.  Research shows that the average family can save $900 a year by using the Internet to shop around for deals on everything from energy provision to household items.


But one remark she made has sinister undertones.  “I don’t think you can be a proper citizen of our society in the future if you are not engaged online,” she stated.


The Way of the Future?


The motivation for the government’s zealotry to get everyone booted up goes far beyond ensuring that they can watch missed TV programs on YouTube or get discounts on their motor insurance.  Quite simply, it’s cheaper to deal with people online than by the old-fashioned method involving pen-pushing, paperwork, stamped mailed envelopes and personal contact.


You can close post offices if everyone gets their pensions via the web.  Banks and utility companies routinely inform their customers that from now on statements will be “paperless” and can only be accessed online.  Soon online tax returns will be mandatory too.


What next?  No passport or driving license unless you apply online?  No right to vote?  The worrying specter of people being disenfranchised by their lack of a computer (through personal choice or lack of finances) is turning into a very real possibility.


In Defense of the Past


But the resistance of the Digital Deniers is hardening.  The number of people in the UK who say they have no wish to be connected is rising.  Their reasons go way beyond a stubborn refusal to join the modern world.  They cite increasing evidence that social interaction, physical activity, even the ability to read and write, are suffering as a direct consequence of the hours spent online.


They fear the way computers seem to know everything about us from the minute we type in our postal or zip code.  They worry about privacy, of having their bank statements accessed or their personal data stolen by hackers.


A single incident supports their argument more eloquently than can any apocryphal story of technological mishap.  Last year, hundreds of people who had bought books for their electronic readers found that Amazon had wiped them remotely.  One day the books were there on the screen, the next day they had vanished.  Forget losing your place – in this case, people’s entire books simply blinked out of existence.


The books in question?  The works of George Orwell, author of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and creator of “Big Brother.”

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