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The Digital Divide Is Coming for You

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When Debbie Gainsford She checked into an ibis hotel in Aldgate, London on June 26 to check out the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the receptionist told her she could scan a QR code in the room to get in touch with her if she had any questions. She didn’t think she needed to do it until 10:30pm when she returned to her room to take a shower – but she realized there were no towels.

There was no phone in the room, and Gainsford, 43, dutifully scanned the QR code. She read a note saying the housekeeping service had only been running for a few hours, then clicked a link to WhatsApp to send a message to the hotel reception. She messaged for a towel. A staff member read it but did not respond.

She messaged again. “It’s not something I want to do late at night,” she said. Eventually someone replied that she could get a towel from the reception. She went down the ninth floor, picked up the towel, and returned to her room. “Paying £120 for accommodation, I didn’t expect to have this experience in a hotel,” she said. Less room service, more “take it yourself”.

Gainsford is far from alone. Throughout the pandemic, in-person and analog services have rapidly relegated to digital alternatives. Many restaurants and bars are ditching physical menus in favor of QR codes, apps and web forms.At Walt Disney World in Florida, an app-based chatbot is telling people to visit long-defunct restaurant. While the digital divide has for years excluded the economically disadvantaged and the elderly, its rapid expansion is creating a new problem: technology is often bad.

Frustration is small, but a lot: people in hotel People who can’t get clean sheets without ordering on app; sports fans told to download program on their phone Because there is no physical copy available; McDonald’s customers are confused by the bank’s self-service kiosks. For businesses, this change is often seen as more efficient and improved — but the reality is more complicated.

Replacing in-person services with digital alternatives is becoming increasingly inconvenient for those on the wrong side of the digital divide. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations’ IT agency, an estimated 2.9 billion people, or 37 percent of the world’s population, have never used the Internet.

On the one hand, the greater convenience and cheaper prices of mobile phones and the internet are helping more people get online: 782 million people will go online for the first time between 2019 and 2021, according to ITU. For many, however, it’s less about being coaxed online than being forced.

Take banking as an example. Since 2012, the number of bank branches in the U.S. has fallen by 6.5 percent, according to financial services firm Self. By 2030, the number of branches will be lower than in 1965, when the US population was 194 million. The trend is similar in the UK, where the number of bank and building society branches fell by a third between 2012 and 2021.





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