Connecting with Non-Connectors

How connected are you? How many gadgets have invaded your body, your home, and your life? I started thinking about this issue after considering two semi-related ideas prompted by Josh @ Bokardo and the recent Pew survey on technology use.

First, there’s a gap. There are those of use who do things like write blogs, subscribe to feeds, obsess over Twitter, and, in general, love the connectivity and accessibility of technology. Then there are the others: people who are less comfortable with technology, less likely to be early adopters.

Based on the Pew survey, a surprising number of people (49%) fall in the occasional to no-use category. Of those surveyed, 15% of U.S. adults are off the technology grid, meaning no cell phone or Internet connection. (Greg Sterling has a great overview of the total report.) So how do we bridge the gap between our two worlds? This question leads to the second part of my semi-related ideas.

On Bokardo, Josh Porter highlights a quote by Tim Berners-Lee:

“The web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect—to help people work together—and not as a technical toy. The ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world. We clump into families, associations, and companies. We develop trust across the miles and distrust around the corner. What we believe, endorse, agree with, and depend on is representable and, increasingly, represented on the Web. We all have to ensure that the society we build with the Web is of the sort we intend.” (link)

Taking his words to heart, I suspect that the Web’s potential is just that, a way of building connections in spite of distance or difference. However, regardless of the Web’s original intent, the Pew Survey highlights a digital divide, a gap between those who understand and use technology and those who do not. So how do we build connections with people who aren’t connected?

I struggle with this idea because I spend a good chunk of time sitting in front of a computer. However, the rest of the time I’m working with my hands or engaged in physical activity, both potential paths of connection through conversation. Josh also makes the excellent point that, “technology is an enabler, not the end goal.” So what if our way to close the gap starts on a non-connected path?

In our rush to try to latest and greatest, we sometimes forget that the easiest way to improve accessibility lies in choosing the right words. Technology can become complicated fast, especially when the language drifts into expert territory. What if the best way to close the gap involves words that offer a basis for connection?

It’s the difference between talking about Twitter like this “The idea is to post updates that answer the question, ‘What are you doing?'” (link) versus “Twitter is a system that quickly matches new messages coming in from members with the followers who have signed up to receive them, then retransmits them using each follower’s preferred channel.” (link)

I wonder how much of the gap we can close if we make it a habit to talk about what we can do with technology rather than the coolness of technology. My father made the leap to a wireless network and high speed connection when I explained he could go anywhere in the house to answer email. He didn’t care about routers or modems. We made a connection over the idea of no cords. How many non-connected people do you know that would like the idea of no cords?



2 Responses to “Connecting with Non-Connectors”

  1. May 10, 2007 at 8:15 am

    You’re getting at an interesting fundamental idea: that both ease of and fidelity of communication drives adoption of technology. It’s interesting to think that words themselves are a form of technology, an abstraction of experiences and feelings and thoughts into a coded set of symbols with a fairly standardized set of meanings. In computer engineering terms, words (and more broadly, language) are kind of like the machine language of the world, offering a glimpse into the underlying emotional and cognitive processes of our minds. So what are behind the words themselves?

  2. 2 Britt
    May 10, 2007 at 8:58 am

    I’ve often wondered if telepathic communication would make it easier to convey the meaning behind the words we choose. Perhaps we would have a direct line to the emotion driving the word choice. One of the common complaints about textual communication is the difficulty of determining the “mood” and the meaning of the words.
    So when you talk about what’s behind the words themselves, I suspect some of it lies in the intent of the user. Is the intent to share, to teach, to enlighten, or is to denigrate, to mock, to frustrate?

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May 2007
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