The Current Digital Divide–Instant Gratification Anyone?

When a link to my daughter’s online wedding registry was sent to some aunts and uncles, it created some confusion. They had never seen an online registry before and couldn’t figure out how to find the gift list or how to purchase something online. This made me start wondering–what is the digital divide between the young “worker bees” and their parents who have to become tech-savvy on the Internet?

The current trend in wedding planning is creating a website–a sort of mini-Facebook page dedicated to posting photos, registering gifts, mentioning the “Save the Date” and wedding reception site plans, as well as giving “updates”. This is how the betrothed communicates in more detail than merely the conventional wedding announcement by snail-mail (still in vogue), telephone calls and face-to-face communication. Now there is constant digital communication with everyone, provided everyone opts to go online to navigate the website.

Much has been said about social networking as an instant but impersonal connection to friends, associates, and strangers. In other words, being endlessly available but seldom really present. There is even a website –Grubwithus–which lets the Internet user browse through lists of dinners in cities, buy a ticket for a particular night, post a few personal facts, and then join strangers at a restaurant for dinner–all in the hope of meeting someone new. It’s “digital barhopping meets personal dining”. The concept fascinates me–picturing small groups of people drinking, eating around the table, all on smart cell phones tethered to the palm of their hands. Does this avoid striking up a conversation in person–a truly scary situation for the shy, and also the not so shy? Does a pre-arranged dinner date with strangers help force the socially awkward to the ultimate goal– face-to-face interaction, so precious and rare? Or does social networking really decrease opportunities for friendship by reducing everyone on your “friends list” to reading the same “updates” that strangers and mere acquaintances also see online?

Those who stubbornly refuse to play are increasingly isolated, the same way that someone without an answering machine or voice mail is (arrogantly?) announcing “stay away” if you can’t take the time to give me a call until you reach me. A new digital divide has been created– between a generation of Internet users and those who still want to go from store to store to buy their wedding presents, appreciate the teller’s smile at the local bank branch, and like the feel of turning the pages of a “real book”.

The upside of digital communications is that the response and the gratification are instantaneous. Our family and friends can know a lot about our daughter’s wedding, even those who cannot attend or were not invited. This lets them know we want to share our excitement. The downside is we are not sharing this information in a more personal way, but can we really do that except with only a very few? Hurt feelings perhaps are diminished with more electronic messages at the same time that a de-personalization of parts of our lives also is happening. An equilibrium still awaits.

9 comments on “The Current Digital Divide–Instant Gratification Anyone?

  1. It’s a quandary, this internet…
    Being gone from “home” (Monterey) for a month now, I should be feeling a little homesick, I think, but with blogs, facebook, email and skype, I do not feel isolated at all. Saying that, I do still have to be aware that I have to snail mail and phone my 91 year old father to keep him in the loop of things – it would be a lot easier if he had email, but the cell phone is even challenging for him. These things just do not make sense to him, just as the microwave oven didn’t make sense to his father. We need to remember what we have now, appreciate what it brings to us and keep in mind the “old” ways of communication if we want to keep in engaged communication.
    I do miss the immediate contact of my friends in Monterey, tho. . .

    • I agree wholeheartedly! The irony is that the elderly could really benefit from the Internet, especially if they are homebound. Sometimes you can reconnect with longlost friends and family through email and Facebook. Thanks for your comment!

  2. When I was a child in the Bronx, the women came out in the evenings and sat on milk crates.
    There was no air conditioning and few households had Televisions. All was not great but I
    believe there was less Isolation of the individual. The internet is a marvelous tool but, we should
    remember that it is a tool…

  3. My problem with internet interaction is that it takes too much time. For some reason when I get on the computer I find all sorts of things to look up and play with so that the hours go by and I end up wondering what happened to my day. I connect with friends mostly when I need to. Long conservations by email are not my thing. My kids use the telephone more for connecting with me. That can take hours too. If I want to buy something it seems convenient to look up the variations on the theme I’m looking for, but once again I find I have spent a very long time and with many digressions into areas I hadn’t considered before. It’s sort of like the idea that the computer was supposed to use less paper than before. Nothing of the kind! I use more paper than I ever used before. I haven’t tried twitter. My fingers are too big to tap out the needed letters and numbers on my IPhone. I can’t imagine how long and how many retypings it would take to get those 144 letters to make sense. We live in an interesting time. I don’t want to go back, but it’s hard to keep up. Joanne

  4. The Internet is a wonderul tool for accessing information and the speed of communication via email is wonderful. I like to contact friends and enjoy their immediate replies but often there’s a brevity and shallowness about the communication. At times, my email queries go unanswered and lacking in coherent communication. Personal hand -written letters, although less frequent, were carefully composed and thoughtful by comparison. I’ve been spring cleaning lately and have been reading old letters from 30 years ago with an eye to burning them. The authors of these letters spring into life again as I read and bring me close to events I’d forgotten. I wonder if I’d ever bother to re read old emails to re capture the flavour of the past.
    As for the social network via Facebook, I find it invasive, filled with flippant remarks and opportunities to” grandstand”.

  5. Instant communication can be a wonderful fast solution at times, but it does not leave me with the sense of fullfilment that a face to face communication provides. It lacks the rich fibers of human interactions.
    We are living in a fast developing technological world. The speed does not match the evolution of behaviour ethics. People need to learn when it is appropriate to use these tools.

    Evelyn

  6. It is a quandary. It is necessary because we will be totally left behind if we do not participate. However, it does take way too much time. I tend to get stuck on the computer and not get the rest of my life lived. Finding a balance is difficult. Learning new computer relationship software takes up time that could be spent elsewhere.

    Yet, it does help keep connections open in this increasingly isolated world. I am lonely for human connection, but do not have the time or energy to engage in face to face connections the way I used to in the past. I am searching for a way to find some balance with this issue.

    Cheryl

  7. My $.02:
    Is it really possible to have a balanced discussion about social media while using social media? Anyone who truly objects and chooses to abstain will not be represented here to give their point of view.

    Social media is a tool, not inherently good or evil. It can be used effectively or abused horribly; social media is not a substitute for true time, but it can be a supplement. It helps me keep in touch with those in different parts of the world that otherwise would be lost to me.

    What is true, is our culture is much less physically connected than cultures of the past were. We’re not forced to be in a relationship with folks around us anymore. We don’t need to band together for protection or trade with our neighbors for food staples. When there’s a conflict, we don’t need to resolve it as we really don’t need that person anyway.

    We have become self-sufficient islands. We were islands even before Facebook and Twitter. Social media didn’t cause our disconnectedness… it just allowed us to broadcast it more effectively.

    My one real complaint is that this magic it supplies at my fingertips, where I can view and read about art for hours at a time; but then the time has vanished for me to be actively making, doing, creating art.

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