My first Guardian column

I suppose for my first column (anywhere) some sort of inaugural words are called for.  Let’s start.

With the arrival of the Internet as a major form of interactive communication, we have seen an avalanche of new types of communication.  From websites, blogs (an online journal- web+ log=blog), video sharing (YouTube), social networks (Facebook.com), to the newest virtual worlds (Second Life), the breadth and depth of these forms of communication is, for me, exciting, over whelming, disturbing, and, ultimately, unavoidable.  As much as you can not imagine going without a telephone, or the postal service, or written language, these newer forms of digital communication are here to say and will have all kinds of impacts on how we collect, share, and distribute information.  Information is the backbone of all relationships, and, so, also of communities, societies, and culture.

One of the benefits of all these digital goodies is that you, the consumer, have a wide degree of what you choose to see, to watch, to ingest.  Sweeping generalizations aside, lets zoom in on the details.  Let me be a tour guide for you through this teeming landscape of media and information.  That is a mouthful.  Is there a better term?  President Bush offers up “the Internets.”  Or his sidekick, Senator Stevens (AK) famously lectured his colleagues about how the Internet is a “series of tubes.”[JC2] The internet doesn’t really do the job o describing what is out there.  Its like describing the auto industry as roads or the economy as money.   The internet, roads, and money are all simply ways to get from A to B.  The exciting stuff, the pulse of culture, politics, discovery, and life are all the As and Bs.  So, the world of information is the digital jungle, the metaverse, the infoscape, or where-we-are-headed (albeit at different speeds).  Cyberspace has emerged as an alternate term ad I’ll stick with it for now because it implies a destination, not a mode of transport.

We have a good sense of how people move around in cyberpsace.  For the record, that is about 73% of us.  The US still has the greatest degree of Internet use, even if the foreigners are kicking our butts in everything from manufacturing to mathematics.  No one out gadgets the average American.  Yet.

Anyway, the Pew Internet and American Life Project (http://www.pewinternet.org) has been doing some insightful research into what we are up to with all of our on-line hours (32/month, according to Nielsen Online; that’s nothing compared to world-leading Israel, at 58 hours per month according to comScore.)  The good Pew folks look at how assets (your computer, your connection), attitudes (do you want to take a sledge hammer to your machine?), and actions (what do you do?) jointly can define the various types, species, of denizens of the infoscape.  They have this nifty quiz (online, of course) you can take to identify yourself (http://www.pewinternet.org/quiz/quiz.asp).  It takes about 10 minutes.

Here is the local fauna, arranged loosely from most to least intense users:

Type % of US Adult Population Key Characteristics
Omnivores 8% Blog? Check. Personal Page? Check. Can you send SMS without looking at the keypad? Check.  Voracious consumers of everything.  They also generate content.
Connectors 7% You love how technology lets you stay connected to friends, family, and hobbies.  Mobile devices are as valuable as a traditional computer because, of course, you are such a social butterfly that you can’t be tied down to a PC or Mac.
Jaded Veterans 8% Been there.  Done that.  You use the Internet or wireless networks, but you could do without.  Presented with the opportunity to make playlists! (iTunes) Post a video! (youtube) or share photographs! (Flickr) your response is “why would I?”
Productivity Enhancers 8% Maybe you would like to watch the latest viral video on Funnyordie.com, but you don’t have time.  The internet is all about helping you get your job done better so you can hurry home to deal with other needs.
Mobile Centrics 10% These types may be rarer in our area.   They are more recent adopters of cyberspace.  They are far more wed to their phones than a computer.  Furthermore, they are mostly interested in connectivity as a way to socialize or pursue leisure.  You have fewer assets and a less professional outlook that Connectors.
The Hassled 10% Ooops.  Buyer’s regret.  You have all the gadgets and potential to connect, but the Information Revolution has been a bust for you.
Inexperienced Experimenters 8% Late to the party but happy to be here.  These experimenters adopted Internet technology later, but are open to becoming more intense users.
Happily Lightweight 15% Participatory technology is fine, but somewhat peripheral to how you live your life.  Would you rather have only a land line or a cell?  If you know without hesitating that you must have your land line, this is your type.
Indifferents 11% You have an Internet connection and a computer but would readily turn both into planters or end tables.
Offline 15% Well, it’s self-explanatory.  Likely to be older, female, and lower income.  This is where the digital divide is deepest and least bridgeable.

Maybe you recognize yourself in the above typology?  I’d like to suggest a location in cyberspace for each type that you may find amusing, helpful, or insightful.

Omnivore: SecondLife (www.secondlife.com) is a persistent 3D world inhabited and built by its residents.  Go anywhere, be anyone, do anything.  Many technologists are expecting Web 3.0 to be a 3D, visual world instead of our current 2D multimedia cyberspace.  Go see the future.

Connector: MeetUp.com is the now-venerable but still ground-breaking application that helps people connect locally around common interests, from alfalfa sprouts to zebra collecting.  A more feature rich (and free!) application that helps people connect and build groups is Nexo.  You can post calendars, polls, photos, forums, invite people, keep a blog, and much more.

Jaded Veteran: If you are feeling hopeful about getting more out of cyberspace, 43folders.com may help out.  For example, they have practical tips on getting email under control. If you just want to indulge your jadedness, click to this parody: http://www.getafirstlife.com/.

Productivity Enhancer: Facebook and myspace seem just too, you know, teeny-bop and the Juno-set?  Linkedin.com is the best professional social network site.

Mobile Centrics: Twitter.com allows you to communicate through PC or phone to particular folks or to the whole world.  And all in 140 characters or less.  Its oddly addicting.

The Hassled: Here is a book and a website about how to disconnect from it all (I’ll just suspend irony for  a moment).  Turn It Off.

Inexperienced Experimenters: Play around with the blog BoingBoing. As It says-it’s a directory of good things.  A great place for an eager experimenter.

Happily Lightweights: Reaching for the yellow pages?  Why not try the online version? (http://www.switchboard.com/).  You can get diving directions, maps, or search by phone number?  Get the most out of your land line!

Indifferents: Here is a search engine to match your attitude: Blackle.com.  And it saves energy!

Offline: If you want a computer, you can go to the public library and use their computer to create an account on ebay.com. It is a big auction.  I saw Desktop computers from $100-200.

My editor (Jim) and I discussed the awkwardness of a print column about the digital infoscape.  Where possible, I will make links relatively short.  Better yet, this column will also appear on the Guardian’s website and my own blog (netsweweave.wordpress.com) so you can read it on line and easily click away on the links.


[JC1]Get dates

[JC2]Get daily show clip)

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Filed under digital culture, participatory technology, sociology, technology, writing

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