Should government provide computers and broadband?

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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7 thoughts on “Should government provide computers and broadband?

  1. I so agree Ron. I can hold my hand up and say that I remember MS-DOS :)
    I agree that if it did come to pass then the unemployed should be the first to get the freebies. Having said that, they’ll still be chasing after non-existent jobs, but at least they’d not have to write the same CV’s over and over again. I’ve heard tell that some job clubs don’t photocopy for you anymore as it costs too much!!
    I also agree that there are many, many people who do not want to have a computer or broadband! I myself, don’t want BT infinity and am sick and tired of having to tell the buggers so!
    I chose to have a computer as it was the next step up from my word processor that I used in work. I chose to drive as it helped me get around and get the children to their after school activities (of which there where a lot), and it really helped when John had his brain hemorrhage!
    I chose not to cook as I’m awful at it :) I obviously made nourishing meals when the children where young as I would not give them processed meals. But put me near a cooker now and I am actually dangerous with this bloody false leg, so hubby does most of it ;) And besides, I actually don’t like to cook unless I really am in the mood.
    Making people go online would only serve to make me stick my heel in and refuse to if I wasn’t already “with it”!
    So many benefits can’t be paid now unless you have completed online forms, and the changes that are happening all the time are making me look like the exorcist!
    So if people don’t want to do it, then don’t. If people end up having to have one, then you don’t have to use it, and anyway, I wouldn’t trust anything for free from this government!

    • I’m all in favour of online claim forms for those who know what they’re doing – which is download a copy into Word, or as an editable PDF, tinker with it until it’s perfect, then go back and fill in a fresh, accurate, copy. I must have a look – it’s possible they’ve rigged the game so you can’t do that any longer

      Too many people won’t know that, though (if they read my blog they will!), and will simply do as they’re told, log in, fill in the form, hit Submit and spend the next three weeks worrying about how it could have been better!

      And never, ever, do it over the phone – too easy to make a mistake, and a mistake now can get you a fine.

      Currently I’ve got 5 computers (3 tablets – iPad3, Kindle HD and a cheapo Android job which was bought more as a cheap e-reader for the pub; a decent laptop cloned to my desktop, and an Acer netbook) and a smartphone, and if computer licensing or registration is ever introduced, my lappie is going to magically disappear! Not bothered about the tablets – I don’t see them as serious tools – too clunky. My smartphone with a Bluetooth keyboard is more use and easier to hide!

      Jesus wept – I’m starting to think like a bloody criminal! The time will come, too, I’m sure of that, when anything but a government-approved PC is severely frowned upon if not outright banned.

      By the way, did you see that article about the back door built into Windows 8 by Microsoft that goes straight to the NSA? The Germans are not happy!

      It occurred to me, too, while I was writing this post, that it really is gamers, hackers, and early-adopters that drive the industry while the corporate world and the Luddites sit on their hands and wait for everything to be perfect!

      And I was right about Gaba shutting my brain down. The further away I get from it, the easier it gets to write. Still a long way to go, but it’s getting better.

      • I have read a couple of articles about the back door in Windows 8! Some of my friends are furious and some haven’t got a brain cell between them and serves them right if anybody does come knocking on their doors!
        I’m staying with Windows 7 – I refuse to go to 8 or even higher should it come out! Having said that, are they going to do what they have done to Windows XP and not support it anymore?!?!?!
        Funny how I’m fine with the Gaba and you had such a reaction to it – but then, we are all built differently and everything affects us in different ways. That’s why I hate it when anyone uses the “average”, companies, schools, shops etc – there is no such thing as “average” in my mind – I cannot compute it :) Hopefully the rest of the Gaba will be out of your system soon.

        • I have a feeling that MS will phase out Win7 earlier than they did with XP as Win8 hasn’t been the success they hoped for (and sure as hell won’t be now!). If they do what they did with XP and dump Win7 security updates then I suppose ramping up third-party security to paranoid levels and sticking with Win7 might work. Got to be worth a try anyway.

          I’m wondering, too, if that NSA back door in Win8 also goes to GCHQ? Wouldn’t surprise me.

  2. hear hear. agree wholeheartedly with this. the www opened up new horizons for me at the age of 60 at a time when i thought my learning days were over. within a year, i had mastered so much, i was in a spin. not only was i researching my family tree, but knew how to open and run a chat room, do graphics,animations, simple daily pc maintainance AND was teaching older people to do same things.now 11 years later, and with a good few very good online friends plus one or two offline ones i would never have met had it not been for this www. old friends that i have known for years. family members. known and unknown before this box came into my life.all keeping in touch.
    on the other side of the coin. one old lady i know .now 88 yrs old, hates these, mobile phones and other modern technology,.with a vengeance. blames the worlds problems on the advent of these items. and wouldnt touch any of them with a barge pole if she isnt forced to.so PCXs and mobile phones are definitely not on HER shopping list.
    the govt only want to do this because, as it stands at the moment. they want to spy on all claimants. but a lot of pensioners will fall out of their net if they dont have PCs etc. as cannot be spied on that way. maybe this is the first intimation that we pensioners are next on the hit list.

    • Oh dear – I’ve got bad news for you – we’re already on the hit list. No specifics as yet but I hear we’re next in line.

  3. Now I have only reached the grand age of 55 a couple of weeks ago. On Friday I had a letter to tell me all about pension ages and as to how they were changing. I’m not allowed to retire (I can’t work), but I can’t get my basic pension until I am 66, so I’ve got 11 more years :) Or will they drop the age for the “marginalised older people” to whatever they want? I am neither marginalised or wanting to be told that I must operate a computer if I didn’t want to!

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