I had this moment today where I immediately felt as if anything that I’ve done with web and mobile computing totally went worthless, and at the same time was still very important.
I was sitting in one of my usual coffeehouse spots getting the day’s reading in and wasn’t long from a conversation with a person who is part of a new church-plant. A woman came in and stared at a bro.
Now, let me preface things. I have a mobile phone that folds out unlike most others sitting in front of me, an iPad in hand, and VIbram Five Fingers on my feet. It is not that I attract attention, but when you look at a bro, things start sticking out.
This woman looked, then looked again. I greeted her (because that’s what everyone does here in the South). And then she asked me about the iPad and my shoes. And for all the interest she had in the shoes, it was her interest in the iPad that was insightful.
She remarked that she’d never heard of the iPad, and wasn’t very computer literate. She understood desktops and laptops, but was just getting used to them. Seeing the iPad and my phone she openly stated, “this is way ahead of her [understanding].”
I immediately felt one part shocked and another part saddened. Shocked because its easy to be in this medium and get lost in the fact that not everyone knows about it.
Saddened because while I think it is totally cool that she might not have known about the iPad, the appearance of such a technology made her feel left behind even more than the laptops, desktops, and mobile phones that we (mobile and web industry folks) commonly pander about. This woman felt left behind.
I’ll contend any almost any chance that I can get that the idea of the digital divide isn’t an issue of access, it is an issue of enablement towards self-identified progress. When we get to a point where people feel that life’s context is beyond their comprehension, then it isn’t that person that’s failed, it is us who keep moving forward who aren’t doing the work of pulling up others.
When she left, I tweeted (via MMM) that I found it amazing that this woman could have felt so left behind after getting some time with the iPad. For as magical as this technology is – she did mention that it was cool and amazing – it (and her questions about the cost and abilities of the device) took what was neat and real, and left it in the realm of magic. Magic: those things that are amazing and life-altering, but out of the reach of your hands to attain or understand; a displayed and entertaining mystery.
Are we really that narcissistic these days? I don’t mean the Gates and Jobs of the world who can fund and invent this stuff, but I mean us. We who use and evangelize this technology everyday, who profit from it in either an occupation or influence – are we not rightly extending to others the ability to change their lives, to execute on their imaginations because of what we have or display?
I said in a post last week that the simplicity of tech is in its ability to be like magic. Unfortunately, this cuts the other way when magic can be seen by all, but is only able to be captured and appreciated by a few.