As technology enthusiasts it’s often easy to forget that technology is not, in and of itself, a solution to anything. This article in Slate on the potential negative impact of programs such as One Laptop per Child is illustrative. Here’s one key point:
“So what happens when good fortune delivers vouchers (and hence computers) into the homes of Romanian youths? . . . computer use also crowded out homework (2.3 hours less per week), reading, and sleep. Less schoolwork translated into lower grades at school—vouchered kids’ GPAs were 0.36 grade points lower than their nonvouchered counterparts—and also lower aspirations for higher education. Vouchered kids were 13 percentage points less likely to report an intention to attend college.”
The article also links to this CNET article from May reporting on a survey showing that one-fifth of all Americans have never sent an email or never used the Internet. That number is striking – but also easy to believe.
Why wouldn’t 60 million Americans reject the Internet? It is possible to live a pretty good life without unfettered, 24/7 access to everything from the most sublime to the most squalid output of human civilization.
That said, I think this all amounts to further evidence of the fracturing of the digital divide into digital subdivisions: increasing numbers of distinct groups defined by widely varying degrees of technological sophistication. (I’m further persuaded by the fact that it’s my idea).
As professional communicators, however, I think it behooves us to take note of this fracturing; the growing complexity that is coming to define how people experience and view technology. Today’s survey measures email use. Tomorrow’s, I have no doubt, will measure take-up, impact (and rejection) of social networking – won’t that be interesting.