Returning to my theme of that murky world I inhabit a lot of the time between the uber-geeks and the digitally excluded, I want to focus in how people view the pace of technological change.
A couple of things have happened recently that have given me cause to think about this theme. One was a discussion with someone who would not accept that his 8 year-old computer was in any way obsolete. He complained about it being slow, but blamed most of the problems on his poor internet connection. This, indeed, was an issue, but the computer itself compounded the problem by being painfully slow. He insisted that he machine was “state of the art” when he bought it. Which may have been true, in 2005.
Then there was the group being consulted with over improvements to their very poor broadband service in a rural area. This was one of the more difficult consultations I have done on this subject, largely because it was in an area where public money was spent on installing a wireless network solution a number of years ago. That solution has never really worked as it should, has failed to find sufficient customers, and it now offers only marginal improvements over fixed line connections in the area, although it does provide connectivity to a few people who can’t get any kind of service at all over their fixed line. But, of course, when the wireless network was installed, all sorts of promises were made about how it would transform the lives of the people connecting to it. Most of these have not been fulfilled. But it has shaped residents’s views about people coming into their area and making promises about connectivity and makes it difficult to get through to them that technology has moved on and better solutions are available.
These were just two incidents among many, but the issue of person being convinced his 8 year-old computer is still state-of-the-art, and the community’s dissatisfaction with its years-old wireless network, crystallised some thoughts for me. I spend a lot of time working with people who have never used new technologies in a consistent manner in their lives. Their frames of reference are with other things that are important to them. And, in most other spheres of life, things don’t change as rapidly as they do in the worlds of computing and the internet. Thus, the man with the 8 year-old computer had a car that was more than 8 years old, and was still perfectly serviceable. The community with the obsolete wireless network lived in centuries-old stone-built houses that will provide homes for more centuries into the future. Computers and internet connections can be expensive, and, for many people, having made that outlay, they expect it to work for them for a very long time. The fact that it doesn’t is another factor in turning people off from using new technologies, it can be confusing to them, and it can prevent them from becoming familiar with new applications and more efficient ways of doing things.
So, as part of our digital inclusion efforts, we need to work harder to communicate the pace of technological change to people. And, and this may seem counter-intuitive, but we need to make this change less scary to people. And we need to ameliorate the pace of change by finding new ways of people extending the life of their old technology. These are key digital inclusion challenges.