The Digital Divide: Can you miss the abyss?
It's really a shame, because she sees the potential in the machine and the wealth of information and tools that it provides. Her problem is in the translation from the physical to the digital realm and the demands of this strange new world the Internet has created.
Being so completely connected to everyone around you is a new experience for many who didn't grow up digitally. But people of my generation are used to taking for granted that any information we might need is right at our fingertips. The status of your friend abroad? Facebook. The description of that dog breed you heard someone talking about? Wikipedia. Directions to your hotel in Florida? Mapquest. That video you remember watching in physics class in high school? YouTube. An art reference picture for Indian elephant ears? Google Images. And so on.
Being on the Internet can be like going to a foreign country; if you didn't grow up there, then you don't know where anything is, and you might not know how to ask. The people around you might even be speaking in a language you don't quite understand. It's tough, but, like actually moving to a foreign country, adaptation is possible. In fact, my mother's acculturation is progressing quite well.
I Know What I Know, You Know?
After all, how can you trust that site for information? There are no fact-checkers, no ultimate authority that goes through each entry and tests all the information for reliability. You can't be absolutely certain of anything that you read on Wikipedia. Right?
Okay, so maybe you shouldn't trust Wikipedia for something that you need to be dead certain of, like, say, a medical diagnosis. But the sheer informational power of this Web site is often underestimated. Wikipedia is nothing less that a collection pot for the vast interconnected hive of human knowledge. Wikipedia is essentially what people know. (Which is often a source of error; people can know a lot of things that aren't necessarily true.) Wikipedia is powerful because the collective human consciousness contains an awful lot of information. It is really the symbol of the power of the digital age; everything that everyone knows can be accessed by anyone at any time from a single location.
I suppose the next logical step would be to remove that final barrier of effort that is recording the information. The ultimate form of speedy communication would be some psychic connection that allows you to access information from anyone, anywhere, simply by virtue of having them know it. What Wikipedia has taught me is that really, the only logical next step is for us to become the Borg. But then, you shouldn't trust everything you learn from Wikipedia.
Confessions of an Online Junkie
Sure, we talked about the movies and books in class, but then we were also expected to hop on Blackboard later and leave some comments in the class forum. I had a ball; I may have made roughly twice as many comments on that board as anyone else in the class.
Maybe having that discussion option was a bit different for me than for some of my classmates because I am (or at least was) an online forum junkie. In an online forum, your presence is based mostly on the number of posts you make. In order to stay current and participate effectively, you must return repeatedly to the boards and check for new posts and, if you really want to be well known, you have to find something meaningful to say on a decent percentage of topic threads. On forums with high populations, discussions can often move at almost real-time speeds, so you really have to keep on your toes.
So I was already in place to jump right into the forum discussions for my class. In the classroom itself, I often felt a little intimidated; I was the only freshman there. But online, where I'm so used to being just another anonymous screenname, I felt no such hesitation. There, no one knows anything about your age, race, gender, background or anything else unless you tell them. You are judged on the quality of your ideas and your communication. In the end, I probably annoyed the living daylights out of my classmates.
Being Digital is Being Available
Maybe even more so if the door's closed; it somehow seems less intrusive. Seeing someone face-to-face has become almost stodgy and formal. It requires a certain effort on the parts of both participants, and a certain level of necessary politeness. By knocking on the door, you force interaction onto the person inside. With an AIM message, the recipient can ignore the pop-up without being too rude.
This phenomenon has begun to seep into the academic world as well. Professor [Alistair] Campbell, who taught my Data Structures class, was the first professor whose name I ever put in my instant messenger buddy list. It was exceedingly helpful at the time; if I was working late in the lab on my code for class and I had a question, I could just hop on AIM and ask him. He made it a point to be online when major projects were coming due, so that he'd be available for just such queries. It was like having extra lab hours, but from the convenience of everyone's own home or room.
At Last, a Path to Absolute Truth
My co-worker recalled with a grin that the friend had lamented, "And then right after, like, less than a minute later, she had already changed her Facebook status to 'single.'"
Certainly the question, "What kind of person gets on Facebook just after they've broken up with someone in order to change their relationship status?" is a reasonable one. But, to be fair, the person doing the breaking up has probably been thinking about doing so for a while. Perhaps a better question is, "If your significant other breaks up with you, why is your first reaction to go on Facebook and check to see what their relationship status is?" It seems almost as though we don't trust real life to be real anymore. It's not official until the little electronic tag has been changed to correctly label your current situation. Once the fact exists in the collective consciousness of your social network, it becomes true. It is written proof, unlike the real world, which could always turn out to be a dream or an elaborate hallucination.
The New Age of Piracy
Some people won't steal anything; they buy their music online through iTunes, get their videos through Netflix and live a happy, comfortable life, never fearing that secret government agents might burst in at any moment and put them in jail for the rest of their lives. After that point, the piracy starts to vary; some people steal music, but not movies. Some people only download TV shows that they can't get commercially in the U.S . (Japanese animation is big.) Some people are fine with copying movies if they're burning a legitimate DVD that someone they know purchased. Some people are fine with absolutely anything. It's hard to really make a moral judgment in this situation, because the people pirating these media don't consider what they do to be stealing.
The fact is just that information sharing has exploded. It's expanded in a way that can't be controlled by previous means, and our culture still hasn't shifted enough to adjust to this new paradigm. Not just the way in which we control these things, but the very control itself has to be re-evaluated and restructured. It might be generations yet before it gets worked out at all — and at the rate things are going, who knows what kind of technology we'll have by then?
When you blog, who's talking? Who's listening?
It's always fascinating to me how much a person's "voice" changes depending on the audience. Case in point: My roommate (we'll call her Rachel, since that's what she calls herself online) recently started a television review blog called The Idiot Box 101. Now, I've had a lot of experience with Rachel's writing — we exchanged letters (snail mail; old school, huh?) over one summer vacation, and I often read over her academic work. The difference is astonishing. When writing personal letters, Rachel writes pretty much how she talks, i.e., she jumps from topic to topic like an ADD monkey on speed and is very excited and at least a little random about everything she says. Her academic work, on the other hand, is far more thoughtful and measured, and generally all-around more, well, academic.
But now there's the blog. Who exactly are you writing for when you're blogging? If anyone on the whole wide Web can view your blog-based thoughts, why do so many blogs sound like personal journals? Even though they could end up reading it, you're not writing for your friends or family members or professors. You're writing for the world at large, an audience so vast and so anonymous that you might as well be writing to and for yourself. And that's the beauty of the online voice, really; it's strangely honest.
Friend me, but not too much
It's not just AIM that has absorbed my professors; I'm also friends with two of them on Facebook. Despite actually removing you from the live subject, these forms of electronic communication can make you feel closer to your teachers. Say, for instance, I'm curious about what one of my professors is doing while she's on leave. I'd be extremely rude to call her up and ask; she's on break, and there's no way she would want to hear from one (let alone many) of her students while she's away spending time with her family.
On the other hand, it's simple to hop on Facebook and see what she's entered for her "status." It's not bothering her in any way, and she's put this information up specifically for her friends to see, so it doesn't really feel like prying. Even leaving a message on her "wall" doesn't feel like a big deal, because everyone can read such messages, so it's not like you're having a private, intimate conversation. It's engaged but controlled, and it's really gone miles to make me feel like my professors are my friends — something often advertised at small liberal arts colleges, but rarely so effectively implemented.
– Kyla Gorman '09