Digital Inclusion in Times of Corona


Last year we did research and wrote a book about the Amsterdam Digital Divide, with great contributions from five of my master students Information Science. Yet, the need for Digital Inclusion has never been so pressing as in these times of Corona, in which many, especially elderly and vulnerable people are separated from their families and friends.

I am confronted in my personal life with a painful separation. Due to the general policy, I am not allowed to visit my father (88), who lives near,  and my brother who is a Downie (he has the Down Syndrome) and lives in a care centre, also not far from our home in Amsterdam. It is obvious that they are both vulnerable for a Corona infection, and we must keep them safe. Before 15 March we used to have dinner together, twice a week, but that is not possible and we don’t know when we are going to meet again. Since my father is a digitally connected person, I asked him to install a video program and showed him how to use it. He managed to do the installation, one day before the lock-down.  My brother Arthur, however, cannot read and write, (but he watches video clips on Youtube every day). He could not understand why he was suddenly not allowed to go to father’s house.

I bought Arthur a laptop. I installed skype on it with only two connections: my own skype-id and my father’s. I handed over the laptop to one of the staff members of the care centre. She was so kind to give Arthur the instructions how to use it. Meanwhile I was standing outside of the house with my laptop, trying to connect to Arthur and show him how this program works.

Arthur was very happy with his new laptop and the video program. The next morning he did his best to find out (on his own) how to set up a video call with me and to my father simultaneously. Even finding the video button was a challenge (he muted himself several times first, by pressing all possible buttons on the screen), but he succeeded by trial and error, and now we can talk with each other, an wave to each other. Digital does not replace an encounter in the real world, but in times of Corona we are at least happy to have this virtual channel of communication.