Digital Divide

The digital divide isn’t always about income or age – sometimes, it’s about attitude.

When I first started playing around seriously with Social Media a few months ago – one of the things that delighted me was the number of folks I met who were over the age of 40 and yet still technologically savvy.

When I got my first account on Facebook, I was teaching. My students let me know about it, and at the time, you needed to have a University email address to sign up. Because I did, I got an account to familiarize myself with what they were doing. “Oh,” I said, “it’s pretty much like MySpace or LiveJournal, but with more of a yearbook sort of feel, eh?” They were surprised I not only knew what MySpace and LiveJournal were, but had maintained accounts at both for several years.

You see, to someone under the age of 25 in America, social media is a reality of life. Everyone knows the buzzwords. Even those without computers at home still text on their cell phones and know what IMing is and what the best sites to go find gossip about their schoolmates is. They’re linked in to the network in a way that previous generations would’ve never imagined possible.

But the older you get, the less likely someone is to have a clue what you are talking about. Sure, you say email or Internet and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who has no idea what you are talking about – but that’s about where it stops in some cases.

When I started blogging I was doing it ‘old school.’ Meaning I had a domain, some server space, and I’d type up an essay – code the HTML by hand, and FTP it up to my site. Then I’d send the half-dozen people who would maybe read it an email and a link and move on.

Over time, there was a blogger blog… then I got sucked over into LiveJournal – which reminded me more of my BBSing days in my youth, but where my age at the time made me one of the “old folks.” After awhile I discovered that I could have accounts all over the internet – from posting boards to blogging communities to social networking sites.

But it wasn’t until a few months back that I came across the term “Social Media.”

Yeah, I know, that’s not because the term wasn’t out there – it’s just a matter of not living in the Bay Area or working in those fields where I would’ve already heard it. But right away I “got” what the term meant. Because all along, I’d been swimming around in it – I just hadn’t ever thought of it as more than sort of a pleasant diversion.

Then a friend introduced me to Twitter – and as I’ve mentioned previously here, I got hooked in. But since I’ve already written all about that previously, we’ll make the assumption you’ve either read it, or can go look at it later if you’re so inclined.

What I’m finding though, is that while it’s very easy for me to explain this phenomena and my fascination with it to anyone under the age of 30… it’s nearly impossible for me to explain it to folks over the age of about 50.

That surprised me – as several of my Twitterpals are well past that age and have a better handle on it than most. Not that they are necessarily ‘technologically inclined’ so much as they are open-minded enough to have seen the possibilities and capitalize on them.

It didn’t occur to me that age could be so much of a factor in determining one’s ability to understand the appeal of this new ‘Web 2.0 frontier’ that we’re exploring.

But there’s a mental shift occurring when it comes to ‘new media’ that reminds me altogether of the revolutionary impact of rock-and-roll.   Yeah, there were folks of all ages who ‘got’ what was happening with rock-and-roll when it showed up on the radios and record players all around the country.  Heck, Alan Freed was in his 30’s when he was widely credited with coining the phrase rock-and-roll.  You didn’t have to be a teen ager to get it.

But there’s something to be said for growing up with something versus having to adapt to it.

I, for one, plan on staying on the side of the divide that ‘gets it.’  Even if I am probably going grey under my latest dye job… Because if you want to stay young at heart, you can’t ever get old in your thinking.

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~ by Lucretia on March 25, 2008.

9 Responses to “Digital Divide”

  1. You know what I’m putting on a thumb drive and showing to every relative at Thanksgiving? This video:

    http://www.commoncraft.com/Twitter

    If I can get grandparents twittering it’ll be a huge success.

  2. Being one of those over 50s who “gets” social media, I know what you’re saying. My friends eyes glaze over. They “spend enough time” on their computers and don’t want to hear about something new or interesting or more of a time-suck.

    Those that read blogs still use bookmarks instead rss feeds to track them. Yes, I think a lot of it is “the way I’ve always done it.”.. When if they thought about it, they’ve been websurfing for only 15 years or so? (before that bbs, usenet, ftp, email, ICQ yes.. but mainly text-based stuff. Not images, ads, websites, video, photos, etc.) And yet they do it.

    The resistance is strange and I have yet to figure out how to break through it.

  3. It’s interesting to read this. I have been on the web for almost 10 years.. Did a ton of research for my thesis and learned that there were websites for women growing out there and I got involved in helping grow a few. I even had a huge online magazine but it felt cold because you didn’t have the interactivity of a forum but forums are often a nasty piece of business because of trolls. Usenet is the same thing.. my fave group: alt.fashion got invaded by a never ending blitz of trolls and so we sort of scattered to the wind like so many overgrown dandelions.
    However with the advent of myspace and livejournal — though I don’t like the feel of live journal– I found the interactivity. Now with facebook, blogs in general and specifically– since I helped build up a few blog groups– and taken my solo, it’s interesting to interact and interconnect with people above and below that benchmark of 40. actually I wish that benchmark were 50 because there are a lot of 30 and 40 somethings that all blend together.
    I know a lot of 60+ guys who are out there on the web and in linkedin that are getting it…
    now it’s getting the young’uns (the HS kids) off myspace and getting them to understand what really they can do besides just fool around.

    my .02 cents

  4. I know what you mean about the age divider. My mom’s 80 years old now, and she totally doesn’t understand the absolute significance of computer technology in my life, why so many are using it, care about it, etc. She certainly would have absolutely no clue at all about social networking.

    Keep in mind that the “digital divide” doesn’t span only age and income, but also accessibility for the blind and others with disabilities. We’re here, too, and we’re doing all we can to put the technologies to make our voices heard so that information and technology will become more accessible and inclusive to us.

  5. A very excellent point that I missed entirely Darrell… there’s somewhat of an irony to the fact that technology makes things so much easier for some folks with disabilities while at the same time providing new challenges for those with other hurdles to overcome.

    Thanks for reminding me!

  6. For the longest time it seemed like all of my closest friends that I hung out with were in their 40s when I was in my late 20s. I wondered why that was. In my experience at least, it was because these women were just finally getting out and being social because their kids were old enough to be on their own. Some of them were also recently divorced so that played a part in it as well. The women in my own age group were otherwise occupied getting married, settling down and starting their families. I was attending college so that part of my life was on hold.

    My point is, that I think it sort of depends on where you are in your life, what activities and hobbies you’re engaged in and what your motives are for getting involved with technology such as social media. I think the digital divide also has to do with timing. It might be that many people in their 30s and 40s use social media more because they are just now able to catch their breath from child rearing days. Two years ago I never would have comprehended that.

    I’m in my 30s and just recently got married and started a family. I’m crazy busy and distracted and torn in a million different directions it seems, but I love social media because at least it keeps me feeling human while in the throws of new motherhood. I also work part time and I’m still nursing my son 3x a day. He still wakes in the middle of the night a few times a week so I’m up late. Sometimes I just can’t sleep. I don’t have a lot of time and energy to be the physically social butterfly that I used to be. I hate to say it but the only time I really want to go out to be social is to find other moms with kids who could play with my son. I also moved to the other side of the country and left all my friends and family behind, so it can be a little lonely at times.

    That’s where social media comes in. It makes me feel like I’m not just living in a cave. It keeps me connected to family and friends and helps me make new friends. Even if I can only be your friend in this little box at times, it’s still warm and fuzzy to me. It makes me happy and that’s what really matters. Social media enriches my life.

    I have lots of reasons for why I’m so interested in social media, but one of the biggest is for my young son. I figure if I can dig my heels in now and keep up, as he gets older, I’ll understand the stuff he gets into. I don’t want to be oblivious to it like my parents are. They are in their 50s and I’m trying to gently guide them kicking and screaming into using technology.

    I’ll go out on a limb here and just say that my parents are from Vietnam war time and they are very skeptical about a lot of things. They always think the government is out to get them. My dad especially. He resists and has an argument for everything. He questions everything and trusts nothing. My mom is a holy roller and just thinks everything is evil. (with regards to the internet)

    It’s a shame too because I bet I could know my parents a whole lot better if they would blog. My mom is a wonderful writer. I’ve read some of her poetry and letters. She would be great at it. My dad, well, he’s not the best at spelling or grammar, but I’d love it if he would write about his life and experiences. I would look past the spelling and stuff just to get to know him better.

    And my 80+ grandmothers, man, I would looooove to know more about them. There are only so many stories they are willing to tell and only so much they will divulge. They are very private people I think. I suppose it comes from the era in which they matured. It wasn’t considered proper to do the things we do today so they just aren’t wired for this kind of social life. That could be why you don’t see a lot of 50+ people dipping their toes in the social media pool.

    The closest I’ve gotten to really learning about them is from old war letters from after my grandfathers passed away where it’s hard to read the handwriting, the pages are faded or missing and the story lines are hard to follow. There are no link baits to reference in letters. (Not that handwritten letters aren’t a dying art form in and of itself.)

    I’m sorry to ramble on but I just think you rock for doing what you do. I think people older than us who embrace technology and social media rock because they use it to enrich their lives and the lives of others somehow. I work with senior citizens (or senior netizens as I’ve seen it termed) teaching them how to use the computer and I just love them. I love the 70 to 90 age group. They can get really irritated with devices, user interfaces, and with how quickly technology evolves at times, don’t get me wrong, but they are also pretty good at sucking it up and digging in even if they can’t remember it from one day to the next. I just love ’em for trying! It’s overwhelming for them all that there is out there. Hell, it’s overwhelming to me so I can only imagine how easy it is to become saturated with this stuff.

    All in all, I think you’re really on the right track with this and I feel it’s people like you who have been doing it and continue to explore who are in the right place at the right time and have the ability to help bridge the gap in the digital divide. Rock on Mama!

  7. Amen!

    For so many reasons, amen!

  8. I’ve just dealt with my mom (who is only 57) and the web- it has taken on an epic feel to expose her to all the possibilities.

    Mom still works, and was recently looking around for a new job, and was incredibly frustrated that so many places told her that she had to apply online. One small retail place she was considering as just a “hobby job” WOULD take a paper application, but you had to download it first- they didn’t keep them in the store anymore!

    She laments how she can’t meet anyone, how lonely the world feels to her. The doe-in-the-headlights thing doesn’t seeme to be going away, and oh, how I wish it would. She could change her life so profoundly… so, I keep trying to teach her to surf, and she’d rather just write a letter. (Her cell phone is complicated…)

  9. I’m 29, and I’m on the fence with the whole Social Media phenomenon. I had a MySpace account for three years (technically, I still do…I’m unable to delete it, so I gutted it). I started blogging over there a couple months into it, and I found a lot more than I bargained for–good and bad.

    The good: well, I met a lot of people who I never would have met…people who made a difference in my life after my Mama died. For me, that blog was a lifeline for a very long time.

    The bad: well, it’s very bad. Many of the friendships I made were superficial and unhealthy. I felt pressured to be someone I wasn’t a lot of the time. The cliques and the tit for tat drove me nuts.

    My abandoning MySpace came after being harshly attacked (indirectly, of course…most people on that site never have the guts to do otherwise) because I said something provocative about social media that hit some of these people where they lived. It resulted in them saying some pretty cruel things about my dead mother. The whole thing forced me to look at my use of the medium…to see what I was getting from it. In the end, what I got didn’t justify what was being taken from me. I chose to disengage. It’s only recently that I started using Twitter (which seems much more low-key). I started blogging again this week, too.

    I think, before, I got to a point of social media fatigue…and I think more people will bump into this sooner or later. My time away from it has helped me see how it functions in my life. It’s like anything else in life–you have to have boundaries. You have to know what you want from it, and you have to be careful about who you let in. Not all people in the world are positive, and it’s very easy to forget that you’re in public every time you’re online.

    I doubt I’ll ever stop being part of it; but I now understand that I’d much rather live in the “real-world” than have a bunch of electronic witnesses.

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