For Darryl McGuire deleting digital information turned out to be no mean feat. A recent ICAC inquiry heard the former Member for Wagga Wagga rolled a tractor over his iPad and iPhones when notified of the inquiry.
Somewhat predictably, Darryl’s actions fuelled a number of twitter jokes and memes of the yet another country MP variety.
Regional Australians have little to thank Darryl for. 2.5 million Australians remain offline. Poor Australians, Indigenous Australians and those living in regional areas are more likely to experience digital exclusion than their richer, educated, urbanised cousins. The problem is not simply technical. Confidence, education and attitudes towards technology widen the gap.
This does matter. Digital exclusion equals social exclusion. Images which emphasise the technical competence of regional Australians are important. COVID has shut down schools, workplaces and government services across Australia making Internet access an essential service. The recent bushfire crisis made social media the go to tool for connecting communities and spreading crisis communications.
Edward Snowden once described deletion of digital information as a ruse, a figment, a public fiction, a not-quite-noble lie that computing tells you to reassure you and give you comfort. He added that computers are not designed to correct mistakes but to hide them from those parties who do not know where to look.
The image of Darryl’s tractor is a powerful furphy. One designed to deflect our attention away from digital permanency. For Darryl and his ex-lover, Gladys Berejiklian, an act of deletion may work to terminate the conversation. It seems cloud computing, digital duplication, back-up tapes and business continuity plans are no impediment to an errant tractor, a document shredder and an end-user delete button. For the rest of us the conversation continues.
Indigenous Australians, regional Australians and those of us who live in cities are using technology to extend offline culture and kinship and build communities which have meaning to us. It is this innovation which will ultimately close the digital divide. The image of Darryl cheerfully rolling his tractor over his mobile devices to destroy evidence does not represent who we are today. The digital deletion excuse is not only implausible, it is damaging.