A wee bit more on ‘the new digital divide’…

A quick follow-up to yesterday’s meandering post… Jeff McClurken commented that it’s a bit too easy to posit all students as comfortable with social software, when an apparent majority of them are not embracing these technologies. My experience with students at UBC supports Jeff’s assertion — I recently gave two weblog workshops to two cohorts of Education students and was struck by the vast disparities in technical skills, web literacy and comfort with the approach.

To get a sense of how adoption of social software can diverge even amongst groups of professional techies, check out today’s post from Roland Tanglao, describing a gathering of former employees of Northern Telecom:

In a gathering of 20 or so people from the software world (like the ex Nortelers) in Silicon Valley I bet several would be bloggers, several would be involved heavily in open source and several would have started their own businesses.

As far as I can tell (except for myself), nobody at yesterday’s gathering was any of those things. And I am not dissing my fellow Nortelers (they are smart people, but lots of smart people everywhere missed the beginning of the the blogging, RSS and open source wave that’s sweeping over us but hey it’s 2005 and these people are geeks, so seize the day Vancouver geeks it’s coming to Vancouver whether you like it or not!), that’s just the way it is!

Roland’s explanation seems geographically oriented, suggesting that slow adoption has something to do with Vancouver’s developer culture — and maybe it does, but I find it hard to denigrate a city that spawned both Flickr and Bryght as fundamentally out of step.

Given the similarities in complaints made by educators and developers, it’s quite possible a broader explanation might apply. Perhaps the power of social software is not as compelling as those of us who’ve drank the electric kool-aid like to think (may I be forgiven for my sacrilege). Or maybe there are fundamental psychological or temperamental characteristics that determine whether someone “gets it” or not…

Man, don’t I wish I had more to say on this.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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6 Responses to A wee bit more on ‘the new digital divide’…

  1. Scott Leslie says:

    Maybe it could also be that we’re continually talking in a bit of an echo chamber; it’s not to denigrate the massive growth of RSS, blogs etc., but to hear some in the ‘blogosphere’ talk, by next week almost everyone will have a blog … and well, it’s like, so 2002 … and on to the next thing … when the reality is that it’s just the bleeding edge bleeding all over itself again and again. Can you tell I’m having a pissy day 😉

    To take a less sarcastic tone, if you look at the famous “curve of diffusion of innovation,” (cf. http://fox.wikis.com/graphics%5CRogersAdoptionInnovationCurve.png) and use an estimate of the total internet population (roughly 938 million, cf http://www.internetworldstats.com/top20.htm), then for it to have even left the ‘Innovators’ phase (2.5% of the population) roughly 25 million people would need to be blogging or otherwise participating. Technorati says it is indexing 15.4 million blogs right now – let’s be generous, and say for every one of those blogs there are 3 readers who are NOT themselves one of the 15 million blog producers (and likely that number is smaller, as many bloggers produce more than one blog), we’re still only around 60 million people. I’m not into quibbling about math – double this if you like. It still doesn’t get you out of the early adopters levels if the total number of net users is an accurate count.

    So again, not to disparage the greatness that are blogs, RSS, social software, yada yada, but we all need to slow down a bit and appreciate that even though the net makes everything look like it is going at lightspeed, its not. If anything, the blogosphere, by tapping us into a distributed network of experts and filters, makes it seem like its going even faster, cause we are hearing quicker and quicker about more things.

    Wow, sorry for the long comment, probably should have blogged this myself, but I am on a blogging hunger strike right now, so you get the brain dump.

  2. the power of social software is compelling but even flickr and bryght 🙂 are still too hard to use

    Still lots of work to do before it crosses the chasm like email did!

  3. Jeremy says:

    Basically, I think it comes down to the fact that this stuff is not for everyone, and never will be.

    An analogy — I remember being the kid in my circle with the camera. Very few of my friends had one, or if they did, they never used it. It always kind of blew my mind, because I thought it was really important to take/keep/share photos, but nobody else seemed to. The barriers to entry were ridiculously low — maybe $30 for a camera, $12 for film/developing, and no training required. My friends seemed to love seeing my photos of our ski trips and random wanderings, but didn’t show any interest in taking photos themselves.

    Same with blogging, e-portfolios, wikis, social networks, etc…you get the enthusiasts who love it so much that they can’t believe everyone isn’t on board yet, the lurkers who see the value but don’t want to do it themselves, and the majority who have no interest whatsoever.

    I think I’m getting dejavu: http://headspacej.tripod.com/2004_07_01_archive.html#109114073972235242

  4. Maybe it is an echo chamber.

    On the other hand, I watch my kids on the computer, and I see them using it more pervasively, casually, and socially than even I do (and that’s saying something). And they’re not just talking to each other. They’re talking to all their friends. Now maybe not all their friends are doing Flickr (probably very few are) and I don’t imagine more than one or two are blogging, but those extended IM sessions are something to behold. And I think they indicate a fundamentally different attitude toward the Internet than we’ve seen before now.

    What’s fascinating to me is the way these social channels easily adapt themselves to teaching and learning. My selfish desire is to tap in to the affective and intellectual energies behind the online communications I witness, and get that juice going into a meta-thought about the possibilities of “communal mental activity” (cf. Bruner, “Culture of Education.” Because the interaction is faster, larger, and potentially more persistent online, I think we can see and think about intellectual and social processes more precisely and creatively (and fluidly) than we could before. We can more easily see the traces of our own engagement, and reflect on them.

    Yes, this is all augmentation talk, and I don’t think Web 2.0 makes that augmentation happen automagically, but I think it does make it more possible to a) point and say “see, that’s what I mean by augmentation! civilization! etc. and b) make that process of pointing, reflecting, processing, and resymbolizing more truly recursive and self-augmenting.

    Yes, at one end of all this you get Hamlet. At the other end, perhaps, you get “Tommy.”

  5. Alan says:

    On the flip and brighter side of adoption, look at how relatively fast digital cameras have hot the mainstream… okay, I lack data, but as I observe people on vacation, out in public places there is this fascinating pantomime:

    (1) Group of people gather for pose

    (2) Photographer snaps photo

    (3) Photographer flips camera over and people huddle to look at the screen.

    I see this everywhere I go and it has happened in a quick time… others have referred to this as the “Best-Buyification” of technology.

    Sure cameras are still complex to use, people are taking good and bad photos, but film has been gently nudged aside, relatively quickly.

    And people say flickr is “hard to use”? I am astounded. I think they ahve the interface of the century 😉

  6. Christopher Sessums says:

    One of the issues as I see it is an epistemological one. The technology is there, the tools and instructions are readily available, but how people choose to approach these items stems from their modus operendi, the way they view the world (and their role in it). It reminds me of leading a horse to water…. Perhaps as we lead folks to the well, we will develop new or different metaphors to get them to drink.

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