It’s easy to forget what life was like before we had 24/7 internet (although I can just about remember!). At the risk of stating the obvious, so many of our daily tasks – from banking and shopping to connecting with friends – can be done online because it’s usually quicker and easier that way. This means that digital skills are no longer just a nice-to-have; they’re as essential as literacy and numeracy in terms of being able to navigate life in an increasingly digital society.
According to the Good Things Foundation, a charity that supports digitally- and socially-excluded people to improve their lives through digital, 12.6 million (23%) of all adults in Britain lack basic digital skills. The Government recognises this and has made it a priority for people to be ‘digitally included’, putting a strong emphasis in its UK Digital Strategy on ensuring that we all have the knowledge and confidence to engage digitally.
Given the benefits of being online, it’s easy to see why digital inclusion is a priority for the Government. We can connect, learn, organise, share; search for jobs and information; plan our journeys; shop; compare services and prices – saving significant amounts of money – and easily get news and entertainment at the touch of our fingertips.
What’s not often recognised is that those things are usually funded by digital advertising – without the ads, three things could happen: the services wouldn’t exist, services wouldn’t evolve as quickly as technological innovation or, as outlined in the IAB’s new policy briefing on the role of advertising in digital inclusion, we would have to pay (more) to use them. As 90% of non-internet users are classed as disadvantaged that would probably create an even greater inequality of access. Other positives that come from having digital skills include getting into the workforce, health improvements and both better wellbeing and personal relationships.
Having so many good, useful ad-funded services available to us in the UK means that the cost of using websites and apps isn’t a barrier to people getting online and participating in society. I’m not pretending for one minute that advertising is altruistic and exists for the greater good of everyone. But it’s nice to remember that there are less tangible but arguably more important benefits that arise from digital advertising beyond the ability for advertisers to reach and wow people, as well as ease and convenience for us.