How being online makes my offline world richer

Did you know that one of 60 million Europeans have never used the internet, and 45% of Europeans don’t have enough digital skills (Digital Scoreboard 2016)? This made me think about the fact that I take for granted both internet connection and my digital literacy. It also made me reflect on how much my offline life is a result of my online communication and activities. Often we hear about the many ways internet steal our quality time offline, and don’t get me wrong, I too agree that we sometimes can end up wasting rather meaningless time online and that switching off once in a while do us good. Although, not having access to internet at all or not knowing how to use it, is a different story, and might leave people excluded from big parts of the offline world.

It is pretty hard to imagine what life would be without access to internet. What would l do if my screen would go black tomorrow and I would be left with a phone that sole function is to make phone calls via a network operator? Most people I  stay in touch with only via different social networking online, and in situations such as the recent terror attack in Stockholm, I was happy to quickly learn from the alter system on Facebook that most of my friends and acquaintances were safe. People whom I otherwise would not have the contact details to get in touch with.

Thanks to Facebook I keep in touch with friends. I often use it to set-up spontaneous coffee dates with new friends close by, or plan a weekend to go and visit old friends far away. I find out about interesting social or cultural happenings in my neighbourhood via events my friends like, that I otherwise most likely would never heard about. I use Snapchat to stay in touch with my niece and nephew, sending silly photos or videos to each other that we can laugh about when we finally meet. With FaceTime or WhatsApp I call for example friends in Canada (paying only the cost of my broadband), and with the video function on we can invite each other into our homes even if we live on each side of the globe. Slack is a tool I discuss project ideas with a group of colleagues, that I got to know and meet regularly in-person thanks to an online course we enrolled in.

Several online services makes my travels both affordable and more adventurous. My flights I book after finding a good deal via various booking pages. On Airbnb I book my holidays accommodation, and get the chance to meet friendly people hosting travellers in their private homes. I explore new cities and destinations by using for example Yelp, Tripadvisor or Spotted by Locals, checking out what people might recommend, such as restaurants, cafes or special hidden places one otherwise might have not known how to find. Maps with GPS guides me to my meetings and helps me locating myself when I am lost. It saves me time but foremost it gives me the confidence to explore new places on my own and allowing myself to get lost. My online contact book comes to handy to find addresses of my dear ones so I occasionally can send old-school postcards and letters wherever I am.

Via twitter I share news with people and colleagues that have similar interests as me (read more about why I tweet). Thanks to EU Tweet Up, an informal after-work gathering for people that tweet about EU affairs in Brussels, I have gotten to know plenty of interesting people I otherwise would not have met.  On LinkedIn I  connect with new work colleagues I met, keep my professional profile up to date, and check out useful information about new professional contacts and job opportunities. Google docs, iCloud and Dropbox are ways I save trees and still am able to bring my documents with me to meetings, by using my phone or iPad (read more about what you can do to go paperless)). And to not forget, all the countless times a simple Google search has helped me to instantly find information during an on going discussion or debate on a topic new to me, which otherwise would have required me hours in the library.

When on my own, I download my podcasts via iTunes and listen to at the gym, Spotify playlists keeps me company when I am cleaning, and Netflix I watch when I want to unwind.

In Sweden where I grew up, physical bank offices hardly exist anymore, let alone do they handle cash. Many people use Swish, an online service that allows you to transfer money from your phone directly from one account to another, for example at the restaurants and even in the country side when picking berries in the summer. Public transport do no longer accept cash on buses or trains and expect you to buy your ticket via your phone if you do not have a pre-paid card for commuting. Travel agents offices are a rare sight, and most jobs would not be possible to apply for without an email address. These are just a few examples of how we rely on technology and internet to go about with our every day life. There are several reasons why someone might not have access to the internet, including location, cost, age and disability. In my work I am currently looking at what is being done to help people to become digitally included (read more here). This includes involving users, in particularly elderly and persons with disabilities, in the design of online services to ensure it is accessible.

My point is, being online makes my offline world richer, and perhaps yours too? With that said, I am not oblivious to the security and privacy issues at stake when using internet. On the contrary, I am getting more conscious, suspicious and critical to the data we give away as a currency for the “free” services we consume and often need. Check out my blog post about cyberphobia, and I also recommend to listen to the Note to Self’s podcast about the “Privacy Paradox” to learn about what you can do to be more aware about your on privacy online.

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