The Web as Digital Divide

We assume that technology continues to bring us closer together; sometimes, however, it divides us further.

Yes, the web is inherently about connections and discovery. Tools like Facebook, Twitter and Email have allowed us to strengthen and expand relationships on many fronts. As we’ve grown increasingly comfortable with privacy tolerance issues we’ve exposed more and more. In some respects our tools have commoditized communication and given us the ability to share more, while doing less (ex: the ability to communicate metadata such as location, presence, etc is more or less automated). Online, we can connect to anyone, anytime and we assume we are now even better stewards of relationships because of it.

This week I spent a good deal of time in a hospital with an older family member. My experience reminded me that while younger generations have moved more of our lives online, it’s likely been at a severe cost in intimacy for older generations. What was once a 45-minute phone call, is now replaced or reduced by email, text messaging and Facebook. The problem is that our new mediums are so profound that we have changed entire communication patterns and expectations, without our even thinking about the consequences. Unfortunately, we forgot that this shift in communications hasn’t been universal among our initial social graph. These changes have been at the expense (loss) of certain persons, even as they ultimately expand our reach.

It serves us well to remember that there are generations that don’t use the same technologies we do. The communications shift has created collateral damage: reduced intimacy and depth in relationships with those who have not crossed the digital divide.

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