Features | 28 Mar 2024

Fear, uncertainty and doubt: why some people don’t have digital skills

No matter why people don’t have digital skills, the Good Things Foundation - one of Vodafone's everyone.connected charity partners - helps people learn the basics, so they can make the most of the online world.

For those of us that use computers and smartphones to access the internet without a second thought, there’s only one thing more incomprehensible than not being online. It’s an unwillingness or reluctance to learn vital digital skills in the first place.

Such behaviour isn’t necessarily the result of unthinking stubbornness though. The Good Things Foundation (GTF), one of Vodafone’s charity partners, surveyed people that benefit from its UK-wide National Digital Inclusion Network, a web of organisations that provides digital skills training and other assistance. The responses they received give an insight into the very personal, psychological factors that shape the UK’s digital divide.


A fear of change and new experiences can be crippling. Some of the people helped by the Good Things Foundation described being “absolutely terrified” of new technology or thought it would be “hard to change” their habits and ways of thinking due to their age.

In one case, a GTF staff member described one beneficiary of their tutoring as “physically shaking” whenever they sat down in front of a computing device. Unsurprisingly, some people found computing jargon and terminology to be intimidating.

Cybercriminals can’t put the squeeze on this juice business

Mejuicer is a small business, yet its owner nonetheless feels well-prepared to deal with cybersecurity threats, thanks to help from Steven Bartlett and Vodafone Digital SOS.

These fears were also, in some cases, amplified by news about cybersecurity breaches and the fearsome portrayal of cybercriminals in popular culture.


Fear isn’t the only inner demon holding people back. Low confidence in themselves and their abilities was also commonly reported. While a lack of digital skills is often associated with the middle aged and elderly, it can also afflict the young. Negative self-perception can, for example, stem from previous unsuccessful stints in education.

A less dramatic, but no less impactful, factor is a lack of interest in learning digital skills. Someone may simply not see the need to learn, especially if they have friends, relatives or neighbours that can interact with the online world on their behalf.

But even then, such a doubter would be missing out on the empowerment that new online experiences can bring, as GTF beneficiary Babs discovered.


Even if people do want to learn, the stigma held against them by others for their current lack of knowledge – or perhaps even their own internalised sense of shame – can act as a barrier to self-betterment.

An elderly GTF beneficiary described feeling “stupid by comparison” to younger generations, while another felt shame upon discovering a folder of instructions prepared by a relative titled “Granny’s Idiot Guide to the Internet”.

Practical difficulties

In addition to psychological barriers, practical issues can stand in the way of people acquiring digital skills. Although modern computing devices have a multitude of built-in accessibility features and support dozens of languages, GTF’s survey found getting to grips with technology was still challenging for groups such as the visually impaired and people for whom English isn’t their first language.

More distressingly, some women have had to overcome paternalistic attitudes or controlling behaviour from their husbands to be able to go online.

Great British Tech Appeal: ‘Loneliness was the worst feeling'

Vodafone UK’s Great British Tech Appeal, run with charity partners Barnardo’s, SafeLives and the British Red Cross, distributes refurbished smartphones and tablets to disadvantaged people who lack connectivity. But what impact does it really have on someone's life?

But help is at hand

The web of organisations that form the Good Things Foundation’s National Digital Inclusion Network are helping people to overcome such barriers, so that they can live their lives to the fullest. They’re doing this with the help of free SIMs from Vodafone’s everyone.connected initiative, which aims to help four million people cross the digital divide by 2027, turning digital exclusion into digital inclusion.

Stay up to date with the latest news from Vodafone by following us on Twitter and signing up for News Centre website notifications.