tinder foundationThe UK’s Tinder Foundation, “a not-for-profit social enterprise that makes good things happen with digital technology, established in December 2011,” recently released a report, “A Leading Digital Nation by 2020: Calculating the cost of delivering online skills for all,” that looked at “the investment needed to get everyone in the UK using the internet regularly with Basic Online Skills.” And it turns out that the outlay required to upskill the UK’s “11 million people still left without the basics needed to use the web in the 21st century” is comparatively minimal: £875 million ($1.45 billion) to be exact. And, as the report’s executive summary continues, “we do not believe the Government should shoulder the full responsibility, but we suggest it might be split equally between the Government; the private sector, and the voluntary and community sector. The investment required to ensure a nation with 100% Basic Online Skills will be £292 million [$485.6 million] for each sector.”

And if these sorts of numbers still sound intimidating, look  at the savings and benefits from that investment. As Jim Knight, Lord Knight of Weymouth and Chair of the Tinder Foundation, declares in the foreword to the report, “we know that just getting people to transact with government online could save some £1.7 billion [$2.83 billion] a year … being a leading digital nation in the global economy would realise some £63 billion [$104.8 billion] worth of benefit.”

The Basic Online Skills, as defined by Go ON UK, the Tinder Foundation’s partner in the report, are things as simple as sending and receiving emails, using search engines to browse the internet, and identifying spam. The report contrasts the UK’s situation with countries such as Norway, that have digital participation rates up at around 98 percent. The figures for the cost of intervention are based on current UK internet centers and other operating programs.

Even a diehard skeptic, or a fanatical opponent of all things social enterprise, should be able to see that the Tinder Foundation could be out by a factor of ten in their predictions and still have a point. And the Tinder Foundation’s benefactors include the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Work and Pensions, so it clearly has the backing of the UK’s official business skills lobby, so it’s no fringe group. This sounds like one of the most worthwhile, productive, and universally beneficial investments that a nation could possibly make.


  1. I just finished reading Jeannette Walls’s wonderful autobiography, The Glass Castle. It’s about what it was like to grow up incredibly poor because neither of her parents, both quite intelligent, wanted to be tied down. They pass up opportunity after opportunity to earn a decent living because they simply didn’t like any lifestyle that limited what they could do.

    Not surprisingly, their children rebelled against all the misery that entailed. At seventeen, Jeannette fled to NYC and was eventually able to get a scholarship to Columbia. There she took a political science course in which the professor offer two explanations for homelessness, the conservative one that it was a product of drugs and entitlement programs and a liberal one that it was the result of social service cut-backs. Here’s her reaction in class:
    I hesitated. “Sometimes, I think, it’s neither.”
    “Can you explain yourself?”
    “I think that maybe sometimes people get the lives they want.”
    Are you saying that sometimes people want to live on the street?” Professor Fuchs asked, “Are you saying they don’t want warm beds and roofs over their heads?”
    “Not exactly,” I said. I was fumbling for words. “They do. But if some of them were willing to work hard and make compromises, they might not have ideal lives, but they could make ends meet.”
    Professor Fuchs walked around from behind her lectern. “What do you know about the lives of the underprivileged? She asked. She was practically trembling with agitation. “What do you know about the hardship and obstacles that the underclass faces?”
    The other students were staring at me.
    “You have a point,” I said.
    (p. 256-257)
    Keep in mind that her family was so poor her entire time growing up, that even when living in the coal country of West Virginia when she was in high school she’d hide in the restroom so her classmates would not see that she had brought no lunch to school. After lunchtime, she’d dig through the restroom trash cans looking for scraps of meals the others had thrown away. It is not exaggeration to say that in her difficult life she’d have more experience with poverty and its causes that the entire faculty of Columbia combined.

    I feel much the same when I read discussions about bridging digital divides. Do you really understand the people you’re claiming to want to change. Do you really understand why they live as they do? Often I wonder if they do.

    I highly recommend The Glass Castle.

    –Michael W. Perry, Lily’s Ride: Saving Father from the Ku Klux Klan (out in April)

  2. Interesting point about choosing digital ‘ignorance’ – I see something of that at the public library, although it’s hard to tell which patrons are hard-core digital avoiders because they have personal issues with joining the online community (some are older, and are tired of being told what they ‘have to learn’; others are proudly counterculture and value being ‘off the grid’), and which patrons are embarrassed about their inability to understand the expanding number of services that are only available online, and shy away from suggestions to ‘just look it up online’ by offering various excuses.

    The first group, like Ms. Walls’ parents, find a validation in staying away from ‘all that Internet/computer stuff’. The second group welcomes one-on-one help working through setting up email, applying for a job, learning to pay bills and file taxes – as long as the tutor can respect what they do know and walk them through the steps to get to the next level of digital skills.

    The danger is from people like the professor who assume they know exactly why different people behave in a similar way. Those of us who have been swimming in the deep end of the digital pool can say ‘Come on in, the water’s fine!’ all we want, but unless we (or well-meaning government programs) find a way to identify the people who will accept help learning Basic Online Skills, any investment in narrowing the digital divide stands a good chance of being wasted.

    For whatever reason (attitude, access, lack of a do-or-die NEED to be online), people on the other side of the digital divide have managed to avoid the social and economic pressures to join the computer-literate, web-surfing world. Understanding why we are ‘here’, and they are not, is a very important first step to creating a plan that can work to narrow the gap. Calculating potential benefits to the larger community is a good way to provide incentive – to the larger community. What is the incentive for the Basic Online UNskilled?

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