They’re not disabled. They don’t have learning difficulties. They’re not elderly or otherwise infirm. Nor are they even necessarily all that hard up. So why are 25,000 Brits about to get free computers from the government, in an act of charity that could cost the taxpayer millions?
Get Online @ Home is an initiative backed by the government and Microsoft that offers refurbished computers cheaply. It was originally aimed at people on welfare, on the basis that they need to skill themselves in IT to find work. But this year the state is chucking in a wad of extra cash to give away millions of free PCs to the 6.4 million people who are too lazy, too tight or simply too uninterested to buy their own computers.
Because, apparently, the internet is now a fundamental human right like shelter and water, which the government will step in to provide if you’re too lazy and feckless to get it for yourself. Never mind the fact that, given an internet connection, all most people want to do is watch porn or play games.
There’s an entire cottage industry, populated by well-meaning, jolly Labour ladies, such as Helen Milner from the unfortunately named Tinder Foundation, dedicated to combating what they call “digital disenfranchisement.”
Some people even end up with cushy government advisory roles for bleating on about “empowerment” and how absolutely essential it is that everyone in the country wastes their lives on Facebook and Twitter.
Have these worthies never considered the possibility that some people aren’t online because they just aren’t interested? Internet-savvy Breitbart London readers will find this mystifying, I’m sure, but there are plenty of folks for whom the internet simply isn’t that alluring. They’d rather be seeing friends, or doing some gardening.
And with the state of comment threads under many websites, can you blame them? Not here, obviously, where by and large you guys are exceedingly sound. But the internet’s not even a particularly nice place, a lot of the time. Imagine wangling a free laptop – on the social, effectively – and getting your £21-a-year broadband set up… and then discovering Comment is Free.
Another thing these campaigns fail to consider is the impact of rapacious social media companies on the back pockets of people who ought really to be hanging on to their kids’ inheritances. Fiendishly addictive games such as Candy Crush and Farmville, for example, which coax players into spending real money on things called “virtual goods.”
They’re called “virtual” because they don’t exist. It’s stuff like extra levels, cheats and power-ups that give you advantage in the game but silently siphon off cash – more than you realise you’re spending when you click Yes on a few windows asking you for 69p. It’s invariably older people, in many cases alone and without someone to curb their spending, who get sucked in to this addictive, expensive cycle of in-game purchases.
The state, of course, has a vested interest in getting everyone online too: it can create “customer service” portals such as gov.uk, which means civil servants never have to actually talk to the public and can instead direct them to a website. Now, in fairness, gov.uk isn’t a bad site. At least, it wouldn’t be, if it meant the public sector could employ fewer people to sit in call centres. But how many redundancies have been created thanks to gov.uk? I think we all know the answer.
Call me a conspiracy theorist, but this screams of feudalism: the state and big business colluding to, on the one hand, keep people dependent on and grateful for government handouts, and, on the other, open up a lucrative new pool of customers with poor impulse control – exactly the sort of personality vulnerable to fleecing by the social gaming industry, which makes its money from lonely people sitting at home all day.
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it. I mean, why bother earning at all, when the state not only provides all your food, housing and beer money but gives you a free computer and subsidised broadband? I’m almost tempted to pack it all in and go on the dole myself. Good on Microsoft, I guess, for snagging themselves all these new Windows and Office users. But a Tory government should know better.