Online living: is it a choice or are we dependent on it now? - Mark Williamson column

Mark Williamson

Mark Williamson - Credit: Archant

East Devon honorary alderman Mark Williamson writes in his latest column about how dependent we are on modern technology

During the pandemic, the internet has become our lifeline.

This has consequences we may come to regret.

Since the lockdown started, new words have entered our language – ‘social distancing’, ‘furloughed’, ‘superspreader’, ‘Zoom’.

We no longer have ‘meetings’. We ‘Zoom’.

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The pandemic has turbo-charged our digital lifestyle. The Office for National Statistics found last year, before the pandemic, 87 per cent of households had internet access and only 13 per cent (mainly the over 54s) didn’t. We had already become an online nation. Zoom has enabled business to continue, councils make decisions and friends meet up. But if digital communication becomes the norm or even required how do we support the 4,500 Exmothians who don’t use it? And there are other problems.

In June this year, for the first time, over half of retail sales took place online. So what future is there for retail shops, small or large, without massive support from local councils on business rates and parking charges?

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Councils cannot assume a return to ’business as usual’.

During the lockdown, many of us discovered the convenience of online banking but with scams and cyber fraud already rising, what will the cost be to individuals by Christmas?

Even more worrying is the welfare of the young.

Pre-lockdown, no less than 79 per cent of teenagers reported at least one ‘harmful online experience’ in the last year. With schools closed and ‘Snapchat’ and ‘Instagram’ the go-to sites, the personal damage may already have been done.

I may live on the Jurassic but I am not a dinosaur. The internet has been a lifeline during this pandemic. But before we relax into the ‘new normal’ maybe we should ask ourselves whether online living has become a dependency rather than a choice.

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