It is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and increases our risk of depression, stroke and hypertension. The mental and emotional toll is even more alarming, as anyone who has experienced it will attest. Sadly, it’s persistent growth rate has been heightened by the coronavirus crisis, taking the prevalence from 10% of the UK population pre-lockdown, to 24% in the weeks that followed.
I’m talking about loneliness – and we should all be talking about it a lot more. As our world becomes more digital, our lives increasingly connected by networks across cyber space, there is a rising number of people who remain unconnected and left behind. The digitally excluded are often socially isolated too; they are often lonely. A digital challenge is also a social one and we can’t afford to ignore it.
During Loneliness Awareness Week, I’d like to highlight some of the work Nominet is doing to alleviate the isolation of those we fear are being left behind in the digital revolution. As an organisation which uses profits for a purpose, we are focused on helping to create a digital future that is inclusive, connected and secure. Inclusivity and connectivity can both be provided by ending digital exclusion, a mission we’ve been working on via a new initiative FutureDotNow, of which Nominet is a founding partner.
This work was turbocharged in March when the lockdown placed those without access to the internet in a far more perilous position than previously. Without the means of getting online – and locked in their home – how were they to access services and support, order shopping and medication, or keep in touch with loved ones? The issues of digital exclusion were rapidly exacerbated by lockdown and FutureDotNow stepped up its activity to match, launching DevicesDotNow to source devices and connectivity, then get them to those in need.
We know that approximately 1.9 million households in the UK are without internet access. This is an enormous figure, hard to comprehend, so let’s zoom in on just one. Annette lives in sheltered accommodation in Birmingham, unable to work due to disability and ongoing health issues. She is in a wheelchair and used to be able to access the internet in the common room of her residence, but during lockdown she was confined to her rooms.
“My children were my only access to the outside world,” she admits. “Not having any contact with them was very difficult and made me feel very cut off and isolated.”
Thankfully, Annette has now been given her own digital device, provided with internet connectivity inside her own rooms, and is able to keep in touch with her children and access news and advice online. She is one of over 1,600 people who have now been helped by DevicesDotNow, according to the latest figures in the recently released interim report. Over £152,000 has been raised so far to support this work – thanks to the generosity of many – but there is much further still to go.
This initial figure of 1,600 is just a drop in the ocean when it comes to the scale of the issue, not to mention a distance from the initial target set by DevicesDotNow of reaching 10,000 of the digitally excluded in the first phase. To really accelerate this work, we’ve launched a new Crowdfunding campaign called #4faces4devices on social media. It’s easy to take part: you simply tag and share photos of the four people you would most like to see, then donate £4 to support DevicesDotNow, encouraging your loved ones to do the same. For a little more than the price of a takeaway coffee (remember those?), you can help us to get technology into the hands of those who are without, alleviating the isolation and loneliness facing thousands during lockdown.
Loneliness is not a weakness, nor something to be ashamed of, yet we don’t talk about it enough – and too many are paying a high price. Importantly, loneliness can also be easily alleviated. During Loneliness Awareness Week – and for the weeks and years to come – let’s start talking about, thinking about and tackling the problem in whatever way we can.
For us at Nominet, as a leader in the social tech space and as part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure, we are determined to use technology as a means of driving change, working with the best and brightest to make digital the solution and not part of the problem. We are determined that the digital future is going to be one that is inclusive, connected and secure for all; DevicesDotNow is one piece of the puzzle.