There are so many opportunities online today, is it any wonder that we see people retreating there? With so much social currency given to “likes” and “followers” and the pressure to appear relevant and popular is it any wonder that many young people risk falling into a very solitary, mainly online existence? I’ve heard it said that you are never as happy as you seem on Instagram, never as miserable as you seem on Twitter, and never as employable as you seem on LinkedIn. We laugh but it’s true.
The transformational moments in life have always been, and will always be, about people. Years from now when we look back on our lives, we won’t remember the YouTube videos we watched or all of those posts on Twitter or Facebook. But we will remember those people who helped and guided us.
As a kid growing up in the 60s in Central Pennsylvania, in the shadow of industry long faded, if it hadn’t have been for the intervention of a great teacher who took an interest in me, recognized my potential and pushed me to study, I would not be in the fortunate position to make a difference I am today.
That’s what led me into nearly three decades of working towards making the world digital, first in developing hardware that made analog machines digital and then building businesses and platforms that connected the world and gave people unlimited access to information. I believed then, as I still do, that access to information, and the ability to connect to people anywhere and at any time, would fundamentally change the way we live together and understand each other as human beings. But I also believe that the propagation of digital in our lives is making us less connected in human terms.
The risks of a life spent increasingly online manifest in a number of ways. Ofcom reports that one child in five has seen content online that they found worrying, nasty or offensive, and the proportion of children experiencing this has increased every year since 2011. The number of counselling sessions ChildLine held about cyber bulling increased by 87 per cent in 2012/13 compared with the previous year. A study commissioned in 2013 for the annual Safer Internet Day, which surveyed more than 24,000 young people, revealed that a third of children had come across something that worried or upset them online, and that being the victim of internet trolls is now British children’s biggest online fear.
More than ever, children need role models and positive experiences in the real world. The great work done by the Prince’s Trust in helping young people find their way to a productive and happy life has never been more important. And it is the generosity of everyone involved with the Trust that makes it possible. With continued support, or even better, with increased support, the Trust can continue to change the lives of vulnerable young people.
The internet is one of the most powerful creations in human history, and it continues to change our lives for the better, but let us not forget that human bonds make us truly who we are. Personal connection and interaction can change lives for the better – not just for the recipient but also for the giver and for everyone whose lives are touched.
Baroness Shields is the chair of Tech City, and the Prime Minister’s Digital Adviser. This is an extract from a speech she gave at The Prince's Trust and EMC Leadership DinnerReuse content