For many people who don’t have the internet, it may be by choice, but simultaneously, they may not know what they are missing or know what resources they’re not utilizing by being disconnected.
The purpose of the disconnected simulation, held Wednesday at the Provo City Library ballroom, was to give people an idea of what things are like on the other side of the digital divide, according to Bill Hulterstrom, CEO of United Way of Utah County.
“We often take for granted our ability to use a computer, and it can seem like everyone is already connected through the internet,” Hulterstrom stated in an email. “Technology and devices have become so ingrained in our everyday lives that we sometimes look for ways to limit their use. But for many, access to the internet and its abundant resources is still out of reach.”
United Way of Utah County, in partnership with the Provo City Library and Google Fiber, hosted the digital exclusion simulation event in conjunction with National Digital Inclusions Week. It allowed participants to experience what life is like for those members of the community who don’t have access to the internet.
Representatives from Provo, Community Action Services and Food Bank, Mountainland Head Start, Utah Valley University and other community agencies volunteered to participate in the event.
Participants were required to complete 10 tasks in an hour, including registering children for school and signing up for health insurance. None of the participants were allowed to use their cellphones.
Each participant had a fact sheet about a person they represented, as well other documents such as a driver’s license, Social Security card, check, W-2 form and resume. These were used to complete many of the assigned tasks. For any tasks that require filling out forms, paper versions of the form were at each station and fake Google Forms versions were created for people who completed the task with a computer.
Different tables were set up throughout the room to represent the different agencies and businesses. Participants had to travel to each location in order to complete their tasks.
The difficulty of not being able to use the internet made it so most were unable to complete their tasks.
“This issue is so important, and it is wonderful to see so much support from our community,” Hulterstrom said in an email. “We are so fortunate to have community leaders that are engaged and passionate about making sure everyone can access the resources they need.”
Access to digital resources is crucial for families in the community, and it is becoming ever more important for us to make sure that everyone has access to the skills and equipment they need to fully participate in the digital world, according to Claire Warnick, Volunteer Center manager at United Way.
“I’m old enough to remember doing these things non-digitally, so I knew how it was to do these things without computers,” said Karen McCandless, director of Community Action in an email. “But in today’s world, everything is so digital that it’s crucial for everyone in the community to have access to digital resources. Being able to complete daily tasks online makes things go faster and decreases frustration. Things go so much better. I can’t imagine not having digital access in our world today.”