America's Secret Loathing of Technology

by francine Hardaway on May 8, 2007

There isn’t one digital divide in America; there are several. The Pew Charitable Trusts have come out with a new study on how we use technology, and I find it fascinating.

The Pew Trusts are a single organization supported by seven family members of the founder of the Sun Oil Company. So they provide fact-based research on American life, funded by recycled oil money. (Just a sidebar.) Fact-based research is supposed to be unbiased, and is provided free to anyone who wants to read it. This isn’t research from Silicon Valley, because the Trusts are located in Philadelphia. Old money. Old values.

I read it. In terms of my use of information technology, I’m an omnivore, a category occupied largely by 28-year-old white males. No wonder I have so few friends in “Second Life,” although interestingly enough y avatar (chosen before this study came out) is a young male. But look what it also says about you, and you, and you…

Take the quiz and see where you fit!

It turns out that, although 31% of Americans are pretty conversant with technology and like the way it helps us live our lives, 69% don’t really feel that way. Many are indifferent, reluctant, or hassled. Many older people are still off the network.

In fact, if you read the whole study, you will find that as people in the study get older, they are less and less enamored of information and communication technology, and less likely to buy the devices that support it (web cams, MP3 players, Blackberrys, etc. They really don’t mind continuing to get their news from MSM (mainstream media), don’t feel the need to photograph their world and upload it somewhere, and aren’t yet taking their true confessions online.

Now part of this is age-related, but another part of it is economics. It’s hard to have eight devices (which you have to own to be an omnivore) unless you have enough money to buy both a desktop and a laptop, and then still have enough left over to buy a cell phone, a PDA, a digital camera, an iPod, and a couple of other random things.

And part of this is the not-yet-ubiquitous Valhalla of the all-in-one mobile device — that handy-dandy piece of equipment light enough to carry easily but powerful enough to contain one’s entire media library and business life. Every year we early adopters look for this device, hoping that this…is…finally…the..year that we can stop carrying our laptops/cameras/phones/musicplayers because they have all converged. I don’t know about you, but when I go on a trip my luggage consists of a change of underwear, a toothbrush, and six power cords and transformers.

But the biggest part of this is time. One thing I don’t do is play video games. I don’t have the time. But I have been trying very hard to “get into” Second Life, aka the “metauniverse” just in case it ever becomes useful. Yesterday I spent two hours in “Second Life,” (yes, I had had a car accident so I was just trying to chill at home) and at the end of the time here’s what I had done.

I had changed the color of my avatar’s shirt, pants, and hair, successfully saving the changes. I had changed him, Chauncey Barkkorn, back to a male, after he mysteriously became a female. I had teleported from the place In landed when I logged in, to a place that looked as if it had a city around it. I had taught my avatar to climb a flight of steps, and I had looked at more billboards than I look at in First Life.

At the end, I felt just like I used to when I gave up smoking dope: this is fun, but I might not have time for it. That’s the biggest digital divide: between the people who have time in their lives to explore things, and the people who don’t.

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The Blog May 30, 2007 at 7:24 am

The Blog

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