Wednesday, January 11, 2012

When Big Brother Watches YouTube With the Rest of Us: Digital Divide 2.0

Ahhhh, technophobia! No, I didn’t make this term up nor is it an irrational fear of a certain musical genre that will remain nameless (though obvious). Technophobia as defined by is “an abnormal fear of or anxiety about the effects of advanced technology.”

With this definition in mind, tech journalist Bill Robinson, a friend and colleague of mine, in his recent Huffington Post column, raised alarm over what he calls the new “digital divide.” No longer is the digital divide over the technological haves and have nots – those who have computers and Internet access versus those who don’t – but rather between those who have become outright addicted to our anywhere and everywhere gadget-gorged world and in so doing, are dividing themselves from the shrinking percentage of those who are living slightly off the digital grid, achieving that increasingly lost something we used to call: balance.

While some might say Bill is off his digital rocker, a real-life “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel,” (Google that, if you don’t know what I’m referencing) I do not. Besides, anyone who was a true technophobe in keeping with the spirit of the definition that framed this piece, would not be posting their thoughts on the Huffington Post.

That said, Bill’s concerns that just maybe we’re all a little too linked, synched and wired is more than a just his conclusion. To buttress his argument, Robinson sites a recent survey by Morgan Stanley that found that 91 percent of Americans have their cell phones within reach at every moment of the day. Just to clarify, that means every 86,400 seconds that make up a 24-hour day. (And yes, I used a Blackberry app to calculate that) The study also found that our collective time spent with our glowing gadgets is outpacing the time we spend asleep.

What a sad bunch of folks we are.

Bill isn’t a technophobe any more than I am. We’re both realists. As a public relations professional and journalist, we interface with the latest and greatest technology on a daily basis. Not only that, but very often communications technology, increasingly in the form of mobile and smartphone adoption, is at the core of what we do.

Navigating this new digital divide successfully doesn’t require an online search engine. All it requires is a dose of common sense, and the recognition that being a hopeless technophile – the opposite of the definition that opened this piece, is just as detrimental as the technophobic response.

To be sure, changing habits takes time and marketers from every corner continue to promote technology’s hyperactive presence. But tonight, when you’re finished reading this post off what will still likely be your Blackberry, Android, iOS device or laptop, remember to power down, turn off, or put your gadgets to sleep and join the remaining 9 percent of Americans that presumably do not have their mobile phone in constant reach. I have a sneaking suspicion that doing so will not only recharge their batteries, but it’ll recharge yours as well.

Sweet dreams.

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