Monday, March 21, 2011

The end of the digital divide – nope

It does amuse me when I hear people say that because the under-50s have been raised in an era of the ubiquitous PC and Internet that the digital divide will slowly disappear (other than that based on socio economic group). The idea that the PC and Internet mark the high water of technological achievement forever and a day is plainly daft.

All that will happen is that new waves of technology will roll along that will create their own divide.

Let me give you an example.

An album (The Streets) is being promoted with a free mixtape download but to access it the fans must use the free app to read the barcode on a 3000g tin of Heinz Tomato Soup. The logic behind this is obscure to say the least. According to industry reports it has been successful however. While it may not have boosted tin soup sales it certainly has helped raise the profile of the barcode in the consumer’s mind.

This use of a smart device, app and barcode is not new. I have already talked about redlaser and stickybits that enable brands to add more details about their products and for consumers to compare prices.

I have now way of knowing if this type of application will succeed but it does illustrate that we will quickly move on to a new range of technologies that will create their own divide.

Fortunately, the smart device and app might also be part of the solution to the digital divide that exists with PCs and Internet.

I think the most likely next divide will be a combination of technology and the intelligence of its user. Dick Stroud


Jamie Carracher said...

Hi Dick -- Interesting perspective. I'm not a social scientist, but I might suggest that the nature of digital divide is changing, especially when viewed through the context of age. Normally the divide has been seen as between computer users and non-computer users -- young and old, rich and poor.

For many older people, the computer was a completely new thing that didn't reflect anything else they had ever used before. This is changing because more people have grown up with computers or incorporated them into their lives over time. People have a frame of reference and get the basic process of how a computer works. Today, a Windows 7 computer isn't all that different than a Windows 95 computer. My Google Chrome Browser is a lot like the first version of Internet Explorer. Things are going to continue to evolve, of course, but unless people decide to give up using computers completely, they're not going to go back to such a stark world as where some people were using computers and some people weren't. And that's huge because just having a computer with Internet access has powerful societal and economic implications -- it is a game changer.

There will definitely be digital divides, but I would argue the divide between someone using Twitter, FourSquare, QR code scanners or other emerging technologies and a simple Web surfer is not as huge as the divide between people with computers and people without.

You bring up an interesting point, though. How do you tackle a never-ending digital divide? And is the digital divide a giant crack between groups (young and old) or a bunch of little cracks? I have had conversations at work with people 23 to 27 years old about college. Their experiences were a lot different than mine because they had Facebook and I didn't -- and I'm just 29. Then came the social media boom, smartphones and apps. This stuff is going to keep changing and we're all going to get divided up. I'm going to guess that rather than a giant digital divide, we're going to have lots of little divides. Just a thought to consider.


Dick Stroud said...

Jamie - I love the idea of multiple digital cracks rather than a huge divide. Yep, very good point. Thanks for your comment.