Our reliance on technology and the internet has never been greater. Lockdown moved our entire social lives online, with our ability to keep in touch with friends and family often dependent on a single connection. For those working or studying at home, technology has shaped the experience. For those who struggle to get online, the consequences have been severe.
Explore what people told us about their online lives below.
“The thought of this happening even 10 years ago is frightening; it would have been so much more challenging.”
Man, 30s, South East
We already relied on technology to keep in touch with loved ones, but the onset of lockdown made our reliance all the more acute. From family WhatsApp groups to Zoom yoga, many people embraced new platforms and possibilities as a result of the crisis, and found new ways to feel close when kept apart.
One woman, who lives alone, said:
‘technology has been essential to my wellbeing during lockdown. I’ve downloaded and learn to use new apps…Technology has enabled me to stay in touch with my family, friends and my church family.’
She has used the internet to meet for church services, to video chat her parents and friends, and for yoga classes during the week. She plans to continue some of these new habits even after lockdown is over:
‘All of these things have helped keep me sane during self-isolation. After lockdown, I have no doubt that my facetime chats with friends and family will continue, rather than using a telephone. Through technology, I have ‘been’ to various events…Not only is it much cheaper, there’s no travelling or accommodation involved, you can watch the talks when it suits you all from the comfort of your own chair. Wonderful!’
Female, 40s, Wales
“We live in a rural part of the UK and the internet is pants. Five in a house, a small fortune for the best that BT has to offer and still…it’s an essential service and the government has been talking about it forever and nothing changes.”
Woman, 50s, South East England
“Looking at the experience of my elderly father and his friends, many feel left out and even bullied by the drive to get everything online.”
Woman, 60s, Yorkshire
It inescapably follows that those without good internet access, or who struggle to get online and use technology have found things considerably harder. Isolation is an obvious result, but not the only one: as physical access to essential services became more difficult, the alternative to go online was frequently go without.
Groups of particular concern, who were being negatively affected by the shift to online life, included:
People with slow broadband speeds or poor phone reception have struggled to enjoy the same benefits of the internet during lockdown as others.
One respondent described how she walks a mile and a half away from the house every day so she can get phone reception to check for texts and voicemails. Her broadband speed meant that trying to watch a 15-minute video about making a mask on YouTube took her nearly an hour.
‘The lockdown has really shown up the digital divide between those with good connections and those without. Here in the countryside, there is no mobile phone service for calls and text, nor is there any data availability on the phone…If working from home is to become the new normal, then digital infrastructure should be prioritised for rural areas to give decent access to all. (Taking part in fuzzy and freeze-y MS Teams and Skype business calls, with unreadable documents on screen share, is extremely trying! Giving equal digital access to rural areas should be done prior to rolling out 5G in urban areas.’
Female, 50s, Scotland
A woman in her 30s, said that limited access to internet meant that she was unable to work some days:
‘Biggest challenge is broadband / 4G – every month during lock down I have used all my data allowance on my phone and have had to take at least 2 days ‘unpaid leave’ because my broadband has been so slow or disconnected completely.’
But just getting people well-connected to the internet is not sufficient to ensure people are included. Many people find it very difficult to use new technologies, and want the choice not to do so at all.
‘Many older people that I talk to (and I include myself) feel that we are being subtly pressurised into using technology that we have no wish to use, e.g. debit cards, credit cards and that the use of cash and cheques is being discouraged without our consent.’
Male, 70+, East Midlands
Some felt that the government was assuming everyone had access to technology in their response to Covid-19, but wasn’t taking any steps to ensure that people with health needs or who couldn’t afford devices could get them.
“Technology which does what I need it to is un-affordable to me and I am unable to afford the technology I do need…I have disabilities- there are clear and obvious reasons and legitimate concerns for me to own such devices, and yet the government overlook these needs….Technology to access services and even business to shop? You don’t have it, you can’t get what you need at an affordable price you need to pay hiked up prices in corner shops or get sick as you will be going without…Many cannot and will not be able to afford these devices- as a result they are going to not just miss out but suffer the consequences, the higher prices, the not hearing the health risks, the not being up to date with the rules, the stats, the fact checking on their fake news…and the government? Decides to resolve this by leaning even more heavily on technology and guiding others towards it…Why is the advice to those who have no funds, to use technology more. This is crazy.”
Female, 30s, London
A charity worker shared:
“I am somewhat hard of hearing and partially lip read, so video calls are hard to follow where the video is not exactly synchronised with the audio. This is also the case with many TV broadcasts and interviews….Clients tell me they need a docking station for their tablets which has large, familiar buttons on it – on, off and volume at the very least. They are not inherently opposed to technology, but the swiping and touch controls are hard when you have shaky hands. There is too much focus on getting technology to everyone. In 20 years, this may be possible as everyone will have grown up with it, but it’s not yet.”
Female, 60s, East of England
“Technology has been great, but also overwhelming. It’s been hard to balance wanting to stay informed with complete information overload.”
Female, 30s, Scotland
Even those grateful for what technology has made possible have found it hasn’t been without its downsides. From social media enabling the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories to a growth in online scams targeting inexperienced users, the internet has also been home to some of the most troubling experiences of people’s lockdown lives. An added factor was the potential launch of a government coronavirus tracking app, which provoked widespread concern.
“After a couple of weeks of pandemic mania, I decided to cut back on watching/ listening to the news as it gave me more anxiety than I needed. I spend quite a lot of time on social media but I try to follow accounts that offer reliable news/ information. I also follow many accounts that bring me hope in these strange times. I think I’ve been more active on social media than I would have been normally, sharing ideas and creative projects. It has been a good outlet and a nice way to connect to a wider community.”
Woman, 20s, Scotland
“I know I’m not unique in this situation but as I had an old fashioned pass book account, it meant that due to my self isolation I couldn’t visit my local High St. branch. Not being Tech savvy (only using the net for emailing friends!), this meant trying to change my account to internet banking. What a challenge! …Using a search engine, I tapped in Fixed Term Bonds, and I had my first experience of “Scammers”. This was a well known Financial Institution offering nearly 4% p.a.! I thought that this smelt fishy and contacted the Financial Conduct Authority and discovered that it WAS a scam. Fortunately, I hadn’t given any details that gained the fraudster’s access…but what an eye-opener. Welcome to the Tech World…and all it’s pitfalls”
Man, 60s, East Midlands
Concerns about the track and trace app centred on privacy issues, over security and use of the data collected. These were strongly linked to lack of trust in the government not to make use of, share or even sell personal data.
“The app is disaster willingness to think the solution built by some of the worlds best software engineers at Google and Apple that does it best to protect people civil liberties isn’t fit for the UK can only mean one of two things the Government have no idea about technology development or they deliberately want to infringe on civil liberties.”
Male, 40s, North West England