The New Divide

My wife is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. This is an organization that celebrates American heritage, promotes patriotism and the teaching of American history, and works to preserve artifacts and places of historical note. To be a member, you have to prove that you’re a descendant of someone who helped further the cause of American independence.

I refer to it as the “old lady club.” On Gilligan’s Island, it was Mrs. Howell who was the member of the DAR. My wife was, for a long time, the youngest member in her chapter. Youngest by about 20 years. I’ve often joked that some of these members are actual daughters of the American Revolution.

So it surprised me when the local chapter decided this week that all of the local officers must be proficient using email and the Internet in order to hold office. They decided that the old way of managing the organization — through phone calls and meetings and (God help us) mail — isn’t going to work anymore. Email is so essential to the way we do things now that it’s a prerequisite for a leadership position.

This weekend, I also listened to the most recent few episodes of The Sniffer podcast. Cathi mentioned that the AyrSpace Gallery is celebrating the centenary of International Women’s Day with an exhibition bringing together work from artists all over the world. They used social media to encourage artists to participate. More than 200 from all over the world are involved. The whole thing was organized in less than a month using social media.

The one thing that Jill was quite determined of was they had to know how to use social media in order to get in. She wasn’t going to hand-hold their way through it… You had to be on Facebook or something in order to find out about it and participate.

So if you’re an artist and you have some really neat project that would fit in with this, but you’ve been in your studio painting or sculpting for the last 20 years and haven’t bothered to keep up with this new “Intertubes” thing, you’re out of luck. You don’t even know that this is happening.

We’ve talked a lot about the digital divide over the last 15-20 years. That’s the gap between the people who have access to technology and those who do not. But the hardware is not the divide anymore. We’re getting pretty close to the point where the number of people who can’t access an online resource because they can’t get to the Internet is lower than the number of people who can’t access the resource because they lack the literacy skills to read the text.

If you throw cell phones into the mix, the penetration numbers are in the mid-90s. That is, about 95% of Americans have access to a cell phone. Even the non-smart feature phones can be used for all kinds of social media applications, and we’re seeing more and more people using them to do more than just make phone calls.

The divide is no longer in access to technology. Now it’s about the skills. Do we know how to use social networking tools, and web tools, and email tools to improve our productivity? Do we understand the basics of “reply all” and “friending”? Do we know when to forward that message to everyone in our contact list, and when to just roll our eyes and delete it? Can we tell when it really is easier to just pick up the phone and have a quick conversation rather than exchanging a half dozen emails (or two dozen texts)?

The divide here is in not so much in access to technology as in expertise/experience/education on using those technologies effectively. Fortunately, that’s the business we’re in.

Photo credit: Laura Padgett on Flickr.

One thought on “The New Divide

  1. We talked about this at EDUCON. If you go back only ten years, none of the social networking or phone texting stuff existed. Professionally trained teachers in college ten years ago (I’m talking about most of the younger teachers) are probably on the wrong side of the divide.

    Much of this gap could be eliminated if people take learning into their own hands. Like you said, it’s not an access divide.

Comments are closed.