Saturday, October 21, 2006

Digital divide - not about gizmoes.

When I read Jessamyn West's latest post about the Digital Divide, I thought - "that's it, that's my family". The bit that struck a chord was:

... the Digital Divide isn'’t just about not having access to the Internet, it'’s about not living in an Internet-aware culture. So in the same way that poverty is really about paucity of options -— so not only do you not have money or resources but no one you know has money or resources - the Digital Divide is really about not having access, having erratic access, or not knowing what to do with that access once you have it. Every time I see a web page with ads designed to look like page elements, or pop-ups designed to look like Windows error messages, I cringe because I know that the people I work with are likely to have trouble with them. While I go on the road and talk about library 2.0, I'm still explaining to many of my students that no, they haven't won a free laptop no matter what the blinky ad on the page says. I feel sometimes like teaching computer skills is all about explaining to people why they should dip their toes into a culture that seems hellbent on deceiving them, misleading them and ripping them off.

Mr8's reading book this week is Hunting with my camera
, which is a diarised account of some guy snapping photos of wildlife in Kruger National Park. The date is written at the top of each entry and he kept skipping it until I said in frustration "You know how a blog is organised by dates - it's just like a blog". Then, and only then he "got it" and began reading the dates out.

So...I have a kid who understands blogs better than diaries. We are deliberately sending him to a school with high laptop usage, as he'd need to use one to cope with his handwriting difficulties, and that way he'll stick out less. While I help Mr8 with his homework, Mr4 "does websites" on a nearby computer.

Both kids can choose to have one hour of computing or of video/DVD per day - and usually choose video/DVD.
We don't have a gaming system like a playstation, but they do game on the PC.They probably use computers recreationally far less than their peers. BUT they constantly see me answer email, sync our PDAs with the online family calendar, read my RSS feeds and write blog posts. Their dad is often working from home, programming upstairs. We have a family blog and write about stuff like great lego models or particularly delicious muffins. At our dinner table we happily discuss topics like Telstra sacking a corporate blogger because of the contents of his blog.

I had wondered whether restricting our kids' computer usage was disadvantaging them. I can now see that they are actually immersed in techno-skeptic culture, so they can assess web culture and use it as a tool rather than a master.

Now...wearing my librarian's hat, I need to ask "Given that providing more gizmoes isn't necessarily the answer, what can I do to help my library users develop skills to evaluate and think critically about the web?".

I'm reassured, however that I'm not breeding super-freakish-techno-geeks. They still have their bewilderments about technology. Like Mr4, who yesterday stepped onto our digital scales to "see how many metres I cost".


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