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March 13, 2009

Divide and Conquer? Not Here

The digital divide. It feels like it’s been a few years since I first heard the term so it’s interesting to see what the status on this issue is now. I had the pleasure of living in Chaska when the city tried to bridge the divide with Wi-Fi. It sounded cool, cheaper. We tried it. Man, was it awful. I think there was some password we had to type in to connect to the internet, and the connection would take forever. Apparently, we didn’t live close enough to the box (not sure what they’re called) that was strapped to the lamppost. I’m vague about this because we didn’t use it for that long. Between my dad and me, we needed something faster so we switched back to the cable company. I’ve not kept up with what Chaska has, but apparently, there is high speed chaska.net.

I thought it was interesting to pose the question of which one of the solutions we’d put money towards. I sat in silence until I realized that it is quite an impossible answer. In the group I was talking with, someone picked citywide wireless as the one to fund. My first thought was – what is someone who has no clue what they’re doing going to gain from citywide wireless? The next thought then was that all those solutions had drawbacks. For instance, digital technology centers are great for helping people who don’t know much about the internet and showing them how to get around, but as the MPR article mentioned, there can be a long wait for a computer. Citywide wireless can help solve that issue. The solutions seem complementary to me. Where one solution has a downfall, another solution plugs up the hole. The next problem, though, is that are we looking at one solution to solve the problems all over the world or regional? Citywide wireless isn’t really going to help people in Africa if they don’t have the infrastructure to do it. But it will work well in the U.S. And I liked how Shayla pointed out that what would it be like if you came to the U but had no computer/internet background? And how scary would that be? Wow. For everything that has to be done online at the U and other private entities moving online (banks, credit card companies – everything concerning your paycheck is online for the MN employees. Nothing is paper, not even the W2), to not know how to get at any of it – well, that really underscores how big of a problem this divide is to me. And that’s why I would say the divide is a bigger problem to tackle than what will happen to newspapers. There will always be news – it’s just a matter of the industry figuring out the best way to report it now. Obviously, I don’t want to see the hard copy paper disappear, but if people can’t get online to read the news and interact with it, then we are just making life harder for those without the proper access to be successful.

All right, so I actually listened to the Kevin Kelly talk on the next 5,000 days of the web before Peter Fleck spoke to the class. Or somewhat listened as I was trying to read something else at the same time. So knowing that Peter Fleck was going to talk about the digital divide, I started to wonder why he wanted us to watch this video. By the end of Kelly’s talk, yeah, I was little freaked out about this “machine” knowing everything about us. It reminded me of the movie I, Robot where that A.I. VIKI starts thinking it knows what’s best for us humans and sends out the robots to “guard” and “protect” the humans by scaring the bleep out of everyone. No thanks; I don’t want to see a Machine like this in the future. So in trying to connect this with the digital divide, I was like, are people who don’t have access now supposed to be glad they aren’t putting all their information out there for this creepy Machine to know about? But I suppose the more realistic thing to think is no access means you’re left out and if we become dependent and interconnected with this thing, then it’ll be harder for people who aren’t connected to function in society properly…ok, whatever. I’m sticking with my first thought.

Too Much Sociality A Bad Thing?

All right, confession time. I have to get this out of the way before I start dumping on this topic. Deep breath…I don’t have an online profile. Gasp! Whew, that feels good. No, I do not have an account on MySpace, Facebook, Linkedin, blah-blah, etc. Does that make me feel unconnected, like I’m floating about in the oxygen-less black pools in outer space? Ha! Heck, no. Although Twitter is intriguing me, being able to get short (short, yes! Time-saver), current updates on what someone (like an author) or some organization is doing.

Facebook, etc makes sense to me in the following ways: keeping in touch with someone who lives far away (get pics and video) or a causal way to chat with someone you once knew well, but don’t anymore, like high shcool (feels like an email accomplishes this though), networking (hello, Linkedin). It’s also great that people are taking take advantage of where the masses are and marketing themselves on MySpace. If they weren’t, they’d need to fire their PR people or take a PR class. But wanting to know how my friend is feeling this morning while sitting in her oh-so-boring history lecture? Whatever, I’ll ask her later when I see her. If I talked about everything online with her, I wouldn’t need to see her in person. Kidding. But while she’s posting on someone’s wall, or whatever it is people do, I’m trying to pay attention to the class that I’m, you know, paying for. So I am amazed that people are on Facebook during class. What’s so urgent that you need to tune out the prof? Is it addiction? Probably not, more like boredom (why are you taking that class then?). You really can’t define addiction as being on for six hours a day (hopefully not at once though) since so much is online now that it forces us to be there.

Growing Up Online, however? It’s frightening how these teens don’t give much thought to what they post online about their so-called public privates lives. My biggest worry about putting any content online is, “how does it represent me? How does it present me to other people?” I mean…baring the thongs? Why? Why would somebody want to do that? Clearly, the freedom of posting whatever content they want is going to their heads, because they are not thinking of the ramifications for later in life. Even if it’s the minimal, “I can’t believe I posted that, I’m so embarrassed. “ Never mind what kind of person you’re putting out there for other people to see (College admissions?! How did you not see that coming??). It’s like the same mentality of speeding in the car with your friends, thinking you won’t ever get hurt because it’s just. So. Cool. And it’s the Moral Panics Online where teens (girls at least) are more willing to try something risqué when they’re around their friends. Hence, the thongs, I guess.

When Shayla asked us what we thought about Second Life, if the trend of keeping your face glued to the screen for hours on end was scary, I mentally answered with a big, fat YES! Scary enough for me that I wanted to say it creeped out the very fiber of my being. I’m fine with the concept of the game (I remember good ‘ol Sim City). It’s people like Mr. Hoogestraat who have just gotten so sucked into it (that’s addiction) that they’re willing to spend however many hours building a virtual coffee shop while his (living and breathing)wife sits around in the living room watching TV. (Side note – what’s up with every time the article mentioned her, she was watching TV? But the boob tube is another topic.) So that someone would devote so much of his or her waking hours on this game is disturbing to me. To detach yourself from what’s going on in the world – politically, economically, that you forget to eat – just makes me shake my head until I can’t stand the swaying motion anymore. Yes, the game and other SNS-related software can be a way to express oneself, put your “real” self out there and meet new people, but to essentially shun life can’t be healthy. But I don’t really have an answer for it because we can’t regulate people’s personal time.

I guess this blog post comes across more like a rant, but – oh well. Web 2.0 is like a diet. Everything can be fine in moderation.