This post was inspired by an entry over at Maggiecakes, about living ‘a digital life in a pre-analogue world’. It’s an interesting post, raising questions about the interaction between ‘digital natives’ (or at least enthusiastic adopters) and those who don’t readily adopt technology, either because of personal choice, local context or, in extreme cases such as the Amish, personal conviction. Now, I’m by no means a neo-Luddite, but the post did raise something that’s concerned me about the rise of the digital society and who or what gets left behind.
That the digital divide is a genuine phenomenon is clear just from my family. My mom has never used the internet, and she’s not interested in doing so – anything that needs to be done online can be done by me or my sister, and you know what? That’s fair enough. As for silver surfers, well, my grandmother struggled when we got her a slightly more high-tech phone, so computing was never going to happen; my other grandmother never owned a telephone. Again, fair enough. Anecdotal though this is, it reminds me that the transition to a digital world is going to take longer than the technology would like.
So I read about exciting developments I’d like to use in the real world (blame Wired) – augmented reality, for instance – but let’s not kid ourselves, the biggest issue facing my town in terms of new technology was probably, realistically speaking, switching off of the analogue TV transmitters. This isn’t intentional, but regardless, I doubt there’s a huge concentration of bloggers or Twitter users locally.
Reading that back, it sounds patronising. It’s not meant to be. Despite us defining our friendships by Facebook, it’s not that way in the real world. For my generation, getting a group of friends together for a night out is now a military operation – for older generations in my area, there’s still an emphasis on physical community – coffee mornings, mother and toddlers groups, churches, pubs. And even though I’m the sort of person who can happily sit in a corner reading a book all day, I think there’s something powerful about groups of people meeting together regularly, forging community – a lot has been written about how Twitter has mobilised the 2011 protest movements across the world, but maybe there’s a more powerful story in how the Occupy movement models a rebuilding of community by setting up camp next to each other.
Maggie’s post also draws attention to communities that deliberately reject technology, specifically the Amish. Now, I’d struggle with the Amish lifestyle – I like having a car and telephones and the internet – but I can understand their concerns about how technology might undermine society, mainly because I don’t think any of us have really got a grasp on what’s happened over the last thirty years ago. Certainly it would be a shame to see traditional crafts disappear, but that’s because I come from a line of carpenters (see that photo to the right) and I have no woodworking ability whatsoever – unlike aforementioned Amish folk. I’ve blogged about that before; I hope that when everything goes digital, there will still be room for the physical. That’s probably hyperbole, but there does seem to be a sense in which we’re valuing the online over the offline (see all the controversy over library closures).
So I’m a digital fan living in a world that hasn’t quite caught up with technology. And you know what, I kinda like that. It helps keep offline community and crafts on the radar, and it helps break down the digital divide by acknowledging the other side of that barrier (something that doesn’t always happen). I can live with that.
Still need to learn to whittle though.