IT'S lovely to see people in 3D again, isn't it?

I'd become so used to seeing flat friends and colleagues appearing on a screen that the notion of humans with contours was quite the novelty.

Under lockdown, for so many of us, life goes on in an alternate reality where things are similar but very different.

Those of us who are able to work from home can do so thanks to the internet, our tasks completed alone at a desk, the end result about identical but the means of production that bit more solitary.

At the very beginning, when we had only just locked down, I could not imagine any desire to partake in an online quiz or any such nonsense. I'd be fine, I had thought, working my way through my bookshelves and what a treat that would be too.

When the shops shut I thought, well, that's that. Nae luck to anyone with a birthday in lockdown as there will be no presents and nae luck to anyone who likes fashion as you'll have had your outfits.

Pre-pandemic I was such a Luddite that the thought of online shopping literally did not occur to me. Luckily it occurred to other people, for the sake of the economy and, more importantly, because I had a lockdown birthday just last week.

From wide eyed wonder at the thought of buying a dress from the internet to living the bulk of life online. It's been interesting to watch how creative people are being with their online lives.

I have friends in choirs who are rehearsing over video call. People in wine clubs who are still managing tasting sessions online. I took part in a rum tasting last week and recently had a cookery lesson over Zoom.

There are myriad exercise classes to try. Ma Stewart has learned to Skype and, particularly because she's deaf and it has subtitles, we've been chatting away even while we can't see each other.

My Bad Movie Club has shifted online and we coordinate watching our duff film while also being on Zoom or chatting in a message group.

I can still carry out my voluntary role as a children's panel member over the internet, which has helped me feel like I'm still being useful.

Local Facebook groups have been a vital source for arranging mutual support during the crisis.

It occurs to me that if the internet goes down or my laptop packs in, I'm unable to work and socially isolated. While life is still busy and interesting, my vista has narrowed to this one screen.

I can't imagine I'm alone.

As so many things have become clear during the Covid-19 pandemic, the vital role of the web in our daily lives has become utterly plain.

It seems likely, and sensible, that many people will continue to work from home after restrictions have lifted. While plans for schooling are up in the air with parents and pupils anxious for the future, it seems likely that, as blended learning partly at home and partly at school, bridges a gap in provision, the internet will play a vastly broader role in education.

The internet has become a crucial tool in sharing information during the pandemic also - giving vital advice about what to do and not to do to stay safe.

Surely its role as a central facet of our lives - on a par with electricity and water - has become plain?

Yet it is only seven short months since Labour's manifesto pledge to provide universal free broadband was condemned by the prime minister as a "crazed communist scheme".

When Jeremy Corbyn announced, with quite breathy excitement, his party's idea to create a national provider, British Broadband, the scheme was treated with contempt akin to a suggestion of free donuts on a Friday or a national dress down day. Nice, but a bit of a daft frippery.

“What was once a luxury is now an essential utility,” the then-Labour leader had said and, boy, but if anything was prescient it was that. Sajid Javid had rejected the idea as a "fantasy", adding, "This is primary school politics not grown-up government."

I wonder if he'd feel that the notion had matured in light of what we know now.

For full and equal participation, for access to education, health guidance, vital family connections and, dare I add it, fun, the internet has, indeed, become an essential utility. Internet access should be a basic right and not just in terms of affordability but in terms of speed and data limits.

Some 600,000 children have no internet access in the UK; age and rural location are just as much a barrier to access as poverty.

Patchwork provision is not something we can turn a blind eye to. Post-covid, we must look to close the digital divide by treating the internet as a public utility regulated by the state.

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