Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Ubiquitous Digital Divide


I have this strange urge to do some geek talk.

It is getting a little odd here as I do not even like to do geek talk. I am guilty of stereotyping geek people and adjectives such as nerd, flashy, spendthrift do come to my mind. I honestly do not think I fit any of the images very well.

Never mind. Let's do some geek talk anyway - because it is necessary.

I use the computers because I HAVE TO. It is not as if my bosses ask me if I would still prefer to stick to pen and paper. Over the last 2 decades, I was gradually being moulded into a typical computer user who can do simple chores like work-processing, emailing and now, Internet surfing.

If '10' means very tech-savvy, I would give myself 2.481 out of 10. Wait a m... doesn't this number look kind of familiar to me? I guess I must have seen it somewhere. OK, let's come back to my tech-savvy score of 2.481. All I am saying is that my score is low.

I am using so much of the computer that I suffer from separation anxiety whenever I am without one for too long. I don't think that is a good thing but I have accepted that life is no longer the same today.


I use a computer to work:

- I hammer on my keyboard vigorously churning reports with word-processors. (I miss the days of leaky ballpoint pen and foolscap paper)

- I shoot emails to all the people who do the same to me using "Reply To All" and I smile thinking that I communicate well.

- I swim inside giant spreadsheets and taking short breaks to look for motion-sickness pills.

- I piece interesting presentation stories on Powerpoints and spending time choosing font colors. I go to and fro between magenta and orange and telling myself that perhaps I am artistic after all.

I use a computer to play:

- Word games are my favorites. I am good at forming weird-looking words which I have no idea what they mean and pretending to be a lexicon. When I hit a handsome score, I fool myself that the 'spell' of my 'disability to spell' has been broken.

- Once in a blue moon (which I define as at most a few times a year), I numb my mind on dumb games like 'Collapse'.



I use a computer to socialize:

- I am a Facebooker. Not avid, just regular. I think Facebook is fun but I avoid elements of narcissism.

- I am a Twitter user. I enjoy 'following' more than being 'followed' (Nothing to do with my leadership quality, ay!). I particularly love witty and clever tweets.

- I yak on Instant Messaging with people half a globe away and those sitting a meter from me. Inside the computer world, everyone is equidistant.

I use a computer to learn:

- There are around 156 million of websites out there - more than enough to burst my tiny brain.



- I am fairly tactile but I read online newspapers. Why? Because the ink on the dailies irks me, not to mention the 'table-cloth' size of the local major papers. (Listen up: It's time to go tabloid size!). One day, I may consider Kindle. (Don't know what Kindle is? Check it out.)

- I do read e-books occasionally but I still prefer the good old paperbacks. Why? Because I am tactile, duh!

I use a computer for entertainment:

- I pipe my favorite tunes via the earphone from the labyrinth of song databases found in the digital world. It helps to ease the tension whenever my MP3 player is out of reach. I think life will just get better with an 'Ultimate Ear MetroFi' earpiece.

- I watch movies on my notebook even though my 12.1" screen will not do justice to the mammoth epic-scale scenes and I may not notice the iceberg in Titanic.

It may seem that I am doing a lot with my computer. The truth is, there are a lot more things the computer can do for me and I am fairly ignorant about them. Hence, 2.481/10 on the techy scale is a pretty generous score, given my shallowness.

The geek world is changing at a scary pace and geek stuff are permeating our lives faster than the swine flu is spreading. Like the flu virus, it mutates at a furious rate and I feel myself trying to climb the slippery 'geek' slope and constantly trying not to slip. It is easy to just stay down there but I don't consider that an option.

Everyday, I receive useful 'tweets' telling me nuggets of geek news. Some are very interesting but most of them sound Greek to me. I have great inertia finding out about new gizmo let alone learning to use one. I admire fanciful top-of-the-range mobile phones. However, I continue to use a simple one and hope that it will never give up on me. I love to listen to songs but I do not have an iPod. I have yet to own a camera despite my love for photography. The list of ironies goes on.

I am not a geek person. Period.



Gizmo was never part of the landscape I grew up with. When I was in school, the computers were humongous and Apple IIe was my first date. Mobile computing was not even in my wildest dream. Later, they introduced the so called 'laptops' and bragged that the 'lightweight' machines offered great mobility. It was an amazingly strange claim for I failed to see how I could ever comfortably rest a 10kg 'laptop' on my laps without causing some paralysis!


Today, the gizmo are going sleek and slim. Fashion has become as important as if not, more important than functionality. Just look at Apple products and you would know what I mean.

Schools in Singapore are beginning to introduce notebooks in classrooms. The juniors carry their textbooks and homework in their personal notebooks. They use it in their classrooms, at home and when they are hanging out somewhere.


In Norway, the schools for the 16-19 year old are trying out laptop-based system. Every student will be given a laptop by their government when the turn 16. Besides their regular school work, the students use the notebooks for exam as well.


I believe the situations in Singapore and Norway are not unique. Within the next 5 to 10 years, the young adults would live a substantial part of their lives inside the cyber world. Slowly but surely, the new generation would redefine the meaning of 'firm handshakes', 'intimate moments' and 'eye contacts'.


Increasingly, the digital divide is tearing the social fabric that is traditionally founded on and maintained by social norms I grew up with. Everything seems to have two sides now: the traditional tactile and the digital virtual.

Why are some people not coming over to the 'digital side' of the digital divide? The main causes usually are: Income level, language barriers and mindset.

I do not consider the first two causes to be prevalent in Singapore. Our income gap is manageable and there is no chronic poverty issue. English being an official language and according to the Singapore Department of Statistics, literacy level is high at 92.5%.

The only problem seems to be MINDSET.

On one end of the digital divide, we have tech-savvy people constantly keeping themselves relevant via the cyber knowledge world. On the other end, we have Singaporeans who are coping with the invasion and evolution of technology usage. The latter are not necessarily old, poor or uneducated.

Due to the pace of change, younger people are at risk of becoming irrelevant too. They are complacent as they presume youth naturally goes with relevance and most worrying of all, they do not realise that the world is moving faster than they thought it is. Many are therefore not keeping up as fast as they should.


The middle-age and the elderly groups have been struggling to keep up. Many are resigned to the fact that tech stuff are meant for the young. They apply the 'out-of-side and out-of-mind' mentality and avoid the use of technology.

I have good and bad news for them.

Let's start with the good one. Basic computing and net-surfing are not as difficult as they may sound. I have seen many success stories and I think their successes are not sheer miracles or coincidence and I am sure age is never a barrier.


The bad news is that, they are heading towards a world with increasing unfamiliarity. Besides disconnection with the outside world, they may soon find themselves having to struggle with simple daily modern tasks.

As I have said at the beginning, I don't like to do geek talk but I will do it anyway because it is necessary. I hope I have convinced you that it is indeed so.

The ubiquitous digital divide is real and widening. Which side are you?

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