The development of digital technology has been rapid in recent decades as we step into the 5G/6G internet network generation. This technology has been particularly useful during the Covid-19 pandemic, when self-isolation and social distancing have been imposed on many people at different times. Various lockdowns have resulted in the increased use of digital means of communication and a reliance on social media and other virtual platforms for staying in touch with one another in the absence of in-person contact. Social connection and interaction are vital for health and wellbeing and the Internet is being used more and more as communication tool for social support. Aside from being used to keep in touch with one another the Internet is also widely used in the management of public health, for health care consultations, for work, shopping, education, and for entertainment (O’Neil, 2019; Cross and O’Neil IN Cross et al, 2021). Zoom (or similar) meetings with people outside our own household have become the new norm. The development in the use of technology has shaped our lives in ways we could not have imagined a relatively short time ago. Our social lives for the past year, for many of us, have been largely played out via virtual means.
Technology has been a great help in meeting our physical, social and mental health needs (O’Neil, 2019; Cross and O’Neil IN Cross et al, 2021). However, technology can’t replace human contact and people can still feel isolated in their own homes during this lockdown period, e.g. restrictions on care home visits and older people living by themselves. There are many reports and stories of increased loneliness and isolation alongside those of humanity and exceptional kindness. There is a need to bear in mind the implications that technology brings for example, increased screen time perhaps replacing our daily walk to school or an active commute to work. Alongside the positive impacts of the use of technology during this pandemic we have also seen some of the negative aspects of it such as challenges with data security and privacy, cyberbullying and abuse. Whilst these issues pre-date the past year, the increased use of technology has, in turn, amplified the potential for adversity. In contrast, being more connected virtually has opened up opportunities to support different groups of people in different ways. However, some may still miss out for various reasons such as, for example, people living with dementia, people suffering with poorer mental health or people with hearing or sight impairment. In addition, people with poor internet access, inadequate hard- or software or those with a fear of technology (‘technophobic’) or lacking in the skills or confidence to use it can also miss out. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘Digital Divide’ (O’Neil, 2019; Cross and O’Neil IN Cross et al, 2021).
The normative ideal of health promotion is about equity, equality and social justice, addressing the causes of powerlessness and disempowerment (O’Neil, 2019; Cross and O’Neil IN Cross et al, 2021). Electronic and mobile devices are widely available and competitively priced. Children in some areas are able to get a computer from school while schools are closed. However, there are others who can’t afford to have a computer each in the same household. In addition, the barrier is not just about inequality of access, it is also about lack of skills in using technologies or appraising web information – so-called eliteracy and ehealth literacy issues (O’Neil, 2019). Navigating through complex healthcare systems, health apps and social media platforms can be a challenge even for well-educated groups. Hence, new technologies might actually increase the ever-widening inequality gap, by helping those with resources and ability, and leaving a large section of “disadvantaged” people further behind in health and in social matters, leading to a steeper social and health gradient. There is a need to consider not just inequality of health outcomes, but inequity of opportunities, as well as addressing social justice that leads to an increasing health and social inequality gap (O’Neil, 2019; Cross and O’Neil IN Cross et al, 2021). Health Promotion: Global Principles and Practice, 2nd Ed picks up on these and many other related issues.
Cross, R., Foster, F., O’Neil, I., Rowlands, S., Warwick-Booth, L. and Woodall, J. (2021) Health Promotion: Global Principles and practice, 2nd Ed. Oxfordshire, CABI. O’Neil, I. (2019) Digital Health Promotion. Cambridge, Polity.
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