Lockdown’s been hard for people working and studying at home. I don’t need to tell you that. Access to physical technology to facilitate this – notably laptops for schools – has been a major issue, and while there’s been a concerted effort to plug that hole, it’s just the start of the problem.
The upgrade cycle and planned obsolescence strategies adopted by major tech firms mean that consumers using older devices won’t necessarily be able to access all the data and services they need. That wasn’t good enough ten years ago and it’s certainly not acceptable during a pandemic.
Brands have a responsibility to support older technologies, so the most vulnerable segments of society aren’t priced out of access to financial services, retail brands or even basic news.
Because data impoverishment is already here.
Economic uncertainty on the back of coronavirus and Brexit is taking a toll, and the Government’s spending watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, predicts 6.5% of all UK workers will be unemployed by the end of the year.
Naturally, this leaves people with stark choices: the weekly shop, or an upgrade to their device or data plan. We’ve already seen what the restriction of services can do to people on a large scale – the recent Facebook standoff in Australia left many without access to proper news outlets on their phones.
‘Just read the news on the outlet’s website’ seems like a reasonable response at first glance, but those worst affected were Pacific Islanders, on basic data plans, with Facebook being the only option that didn’t burn through their allowance. In this case, they were literally too poor to read the news.
To circumvent this, your brand needs to be accessible. Truly.
Many jobs are now posted exclusively online. Some banking services are now only available via an app – and in some cases, only on the latest operating systems. By only supporting the most current tech, you’re punishing people for not having the cash to keep up. This is endemic in the gig economy, for example, where workers have no choice but to work zero-hour contracts, and often for a substandard wage.
An ethical shift in mindset is required for this to change for the better. You’re not just modernising for modernity’s sake; you’re evolving for posterity’s sake. New doesn’t mean best, and while new features should be embraced, they shouldn’t be rolled out to the detriment of swathes of people currently using older versions of the product or service.
The wider implications of ill-planned data distribution are dire – so don’t play into it.
Beyond the dubious ethics of ostracising significant chunks of society, only optimising apps and websites for the latest tech is highly wasteful. Effectively forcing people to upgrade their devices generates masses of physical waste, which is naturally something any brand with a green agenda (which should be all of them!) would want to avoid at all costs.
It’s not an easy thing to tackle because it’s so deep-rooted in how the world works, but change is on the horizon. A ‘right to repair law’ is being implemented in the UK this summer, which covers items such as fridges and TVs – with any luck, this will soon branch out into mobile devices and the like.
But the brands that acknowledge the problem now, and actively resolve it on the basis of something other than legislation, are the ones that’ll stay the course. Because it’s not just a business issue – it’s an ethical necessity.