Yes. I said it.
In Ha-Joon Chang’s book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism there is a chapter titled: “The washing machine has changed the world more than the internet has”.
He makes the point that we – humans – perceive the most recent changes as the most revolutionary, even if the facts say otherwise. For example, the washing machine (along with other household appliances) made a far bigger impact on society than the internet. They liberated women from household work and helped abolish professions such as domestic service. It meant women became more active in the labour market, which changed their status at home and had huge economic consequences.
The fascination with the internet had led to concerns such as ‘digital exclusion’ – and a big push (from councils, for example) to get everyone online. The big question – however – is whether this is what people need most, and are too many resources going in to digital inclusion when they would help more people if they used the resources elsewhere.
The same thing is happening at an international level, where rich countries are doing loads to bridge the ‘digital divide’ with poorer countries. But do people in poor countries really need a laptop and decent wifi connection, or would they be better off with things like clean water, food, medicine, education, etc?
ha! I didnt know the washing machine story came from there! I had it in my head as a vague argument for a while now, but didnt know id read it anywhere. Havent read the book, it’ll be a Guardian review no doubt.
ive regaled people before with it, hasnt worked. still BLINDED BY THE APPS they are
….That curry looks amazing.
i THINK YOU’LL FIND this blog post is about the insidious nature of digital by default.
ONE PICTURE OF CURRY and suddenly it’s all about the Madras.
What about the west highland terrier eh? EH?
i’m having gammon for tea, i’ll let you know how that turns out
Reblogged this on Humane Solutions and commented:
Rantiness and swearing aside, this reblogged post makes a profound point about the inhumane consequences of “Digital by Default”.
Curry would be best for Medway Council.
Your blog post raises (if somewhat unconventionally) what might be a important point. But it would be better made if you gave some examples. I’m struggling to think of any specific local (or national) government services that have been harmed by being digital, and can’t really see why a default position would be bad either. Well, provided there are alternative channels, which in most cases there are, aren’t there? In fact, I think the provisions of various acts require it.
Not relying on many local government services though, I’m not hugely knowledgeable when it comes to this. But some examples would be nice.
It’s not so much ‘harmed by being digital “, more” harmed by digital by default “.
Reasons are tricky to explain but I’m seeing the lurch to digital from the inside of a local authority, and they aren’t concentrating on purpose as defined by the customers problem, rather they are addressing “the problem we’ve got because these people keep contacting us”.
That is not the actual problem. The problem is always defined and owned by the customer /resident/client but we think it’s now OUR problem. Subtly but importantly different. So if you have a problem, best make it a cheap problem, and Web is cheaper than people handling it so they are shoving customer contact as default to be the cheapest and easiest option… Digital.
This is not the best or most appropriate in all cases, or also not done well in all cases. But it’s on the Web, so that’s alright isn’t it?
Except it’s not, I wanted to pay school dinner fees. Finally they DID create an online option, except it’s so poor I couldn’t use it. My school wasn’t on, despite hunting for it I was told it was, it wasn’t. So I ring up, and am shoved around, disconnected etc
3 calls later, payment is done
But if they hadn’t concentrated on “do it online”, but instead ‘make it easy for everyone to pay”, their different mindset would have produced different questions and different results.
Local gov is being pressured to do digital by default, not “what’s best” by default. So they are. Stick something on the Web, BAM, we’re done. This is a fault of thinking, not of the Web, but digital by default is a thinking statement. It says nothing about Web stuff which is just a means, a method of delivery.
Don’t be unemployed, as an example. Otherwise you will have to use the diabolical job match website.
This is a product of this thinking.
I don’t go into it in depth here, but Google around for how shit it is and doesn’t work for job seekers. yet it is whizzbang digital by default. People used sign on with paper evidence of their job hunt, now, no matter where these jobs are, they have to show their job hunting evidenced through that shit website. Again, a thinking problem caused by the idea that Web solves all.
A default ANYTHING is a bad position as it’s closed to what the problem presented actually is. Instead it assumes the answer straight off.
It’s sheer fucking arrogance.
Choice-based-letting is an example of failure of digital by default.
This is an approach to allocating council housing to people by a sort of “ebay-for-social-housing”. It has been pushed by central governement.
At the heart is a website where you view housing, and place “bids” for them.
Rather than at the heart being the needs of the residents. This was shown by Great Yarmouth council who started from first principles and looked at what mattered to people on their housing list, found that the needs were not being met by pointless bidding for housing on a website, ditched the website and did what mattered for their residents instead.
They started with “whats the problem we are really trying to solve?” rang up people on the housing lit, found it wasnt the problem that the website was allegedly solving. This led them along an entirely different route to an entirely different place.
From what I know of government services, I’m not surprised they’ve gone wrong on line. I have some skin in the game here, since my job is to design digital things. I’m therefore always interested to hear people’s views on this.
The examples seem to be of digital services not being designed or executed properly, or being crippled by the system in which they operate. The former issue is usually due to a lack of proper (“architectural”) design – something that doesn’t come cheap and is often very difficult to do. The latter is usually a much bigger issue that would probably affect any method of delivery, digital or not. And these issues are by no means unique to the public sector, believe me.
I’m not sure how analysing this as being a “mentality” of digital by default actually helps my understanding of the problem though. What, specifically, is wrong with wanting to offer services digitally? Would it be “arrogant” even if the service itself operated well (an example often held to be a good one is on-line tax self-assessment, for example)? I think you imply that in spending money trying to deliver services like lunch money payments digitally, resources are taken away from creating better alternative (non-digital) services that would work better for people. If so, how should local government approach this issue?
Forgive me for pressing the point, but I’m trying to work out whether you are on to something important that I need to understand.
The whole thrust of this blog is that means/method of delivery should ALWAYS be subsumed to the purpose aims for.
A key phrase is “it depends” being a shorthand for “go study the specific problem you have at hand as that will define the specific solution you are going to experiment with, and whether it works or not, well it depends”
Meaning, no blanket solutioneering but also not blanket problemeering.
Is a digital solution bad? It depends.
Is a digital solution good? It depends.
Anything that is “by default” ignores the particularities of a situation.
I intended in the post to have a go at the thinking of digital by default, rather than online methods in themselves.
A bit like a call centre might be the right solution or the wrong solution, in itself it is neither good or bad, whether it is in a particular situation, well it depends.
There is nothing IN PARTICULARLY bad about digital by default. It is the last two words that are the bad part. The first word depneds on the fashion of the moment
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