The Digital Divide, Part II: The Computer Befuddled

A few days ago, I wrote about two forms of digital divide: how our dependence on computers effectively disenfranchises those that can’t afford modern technology, and how the movement towards touch interfaces is disenfranchising a segment of the disabled community. Today, I’ve run into an example of another disenfranchised group: the seniors/computer illiterates.

Recently, I’ve been running into more and more people who have trouble interacting with computers. In some ways, this goes beyond Picnic or Idi0t errors (see this great NY Times article: “Make Sure the Problem is Not In Your Chair“) to people who don’t even understand the concepts. You know these folks: I’m sure they’ve called you clueless. They’re the ones who feel the way to turn off the computer is to turn off the power bar. They’re the ones who don’t even know where a start button is or what the windows logo is. They’re the ones who don’t understand the differences between browsers, what a location bar is, or what it means to right click something. Now, I tend to call this group “the seniors”, but I want to be clear I don’t mean all seniors, just the ones to whom computers are completely foreign. Translation: If you’re able to figure out how to read this, I don’t mean you!. Perhaps a better name for this group would be the computer befuddled.

We all know this group exists. The problem is: with our rush into digital services, we’re disenfranchising this group. This is the group that wouldn’t know how to do ebanking or get insurance quotes by phone (let alone use a smart phone). This is the group that needs physical objects to listen to music; they would have no idea how to stream or download music. This is the group for whom having government services available on the Internet means nothing.

As we attempt to save more and more money by moving services to the electronic side, we are cutting off “the seniors”. We are either forcing them to pay more, use services they don’t understand… or forcing them to torture their computer-literate children.

In many ways, this is a failure we can place squarely on our major operating system and application vendors, who have their interfaces designed by the computer literate. Perhaps they should be offering simplified but secure interfaces (so no “Microsoft Bob“) designed by those not computer literate for those not computer literate. Just like there is the senior cellphone that has limited options, we need the senior operating system and browser.


Using Technology to Disenfranchise Groups: Ruminations on E-Book Readers and the iPod Classic

Some articles I’ve seen recently got me thinking (while I ate my lunch) about the “digital divide” and our love of devices. So let me take a few minutes to ramble on this subject to you, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The first relates to the “digital divide”. kay_gmd alerted me to an excellent post by Seanan McGuire about the problem with ebooks, and the supposed “death of traditional publishing”. The behavior of Congress has gotten us all thinking about the inequity between the rich and the poor, especially in financial areas, but we fail to look at the technological implications. The increasing push to “e-books” (and the corresponding death of the paper bookstore), the presence of URLs everywhere and the push to do everything over the web, and the increasing use of Q-code readable by smartphones has a hidden disenfranchisng effect: it cuts off those that cannot afford all the nifty devices, or the supporting services (cough, data plans, cough) that are required to use them. Thus we further isolate the poor and the non-technical, relegating them to out-dated print media or less effective paper procedures. What is worse is that while we do this, we don’t even realize we are doing it. This divide isnt’ new: I’m sure it occurred when cars were first introduced—and didn’t go away until every family, at any level, could afford them or have an alternative. But we need be aware of it.

The other aspect of our love of devices is the desire for the latest and greatest. Amazon announced the Kindle Fire today. Samsung has new Galaxy players coming out. But what worries me most is Apple’s introduction of the iPhone 5, for the rumor mill is heavy with word that the introduction of the iPhone 5 is going to mean the death of the iPod shuffle and the iPod classic (see here, here, here, and here). I really don’t want to lose what the original iPod line gives.

The original iPod line is more than a dedicated music player. If the music player were integrated into a more multifunction device, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. But there are things that the original iPods give that aren’t in the newer lines. The first and foremost, for me, is storage. I’ve got over 25,000 songs on my iPod and adding more daily. This is over 90GB of music. None, and I mean none, of the newer “touch” players come close to that storage. I know I’m not alone in wanting the larger storage devices; professionals depend on this larger storage every day. Second, these devices don’t require you to look at the screen to manage the controls. Just as with a cassette player, a CD player, or my car radio, I don’t have to move my eyes to adjust my music or the volume. That’s not the case for the “touch” devices—and is significant for the disabled community who either don’t have the vision or the dexterity to work the “touch” devices. Again, the movement to touchscreens is disenfranchising a large portion of our community from being able to use them. Lastly, these devices don’t require a network connection (WiFi, 3G, 4G). I don’t need a data plan to listen to my music. I may need to sync occasionally, but that’s a loading action. All the proposals for the “touch” devices I have seen depend on wireless access: smart applications, etc. I’m sure that Apple will say that larger storage is not required because you can store your music in the cloud, but that conveniently forgets that you have no access to your music when the cloud is inaccessible (such as on an airplane, underground, or in protected installations). WiFi is neither ubiquitiously available nor ubiquitiously free. This is why I really want Apple to retain the iPod Classic (in fact, I’m unsure whether I should stock up and buy an extra one before they go away).

My daughter has recently been pushing to get a smartphone and/or an iPad. She sees them being used more and more to provide the web on demand, in schools, and with all her friends. I’m not sure she realizes why these devices are bad things. I wonder how long I can hold out before we break down and get one.

I’d really like to know your thoughts on the subject?


Friday News Chum Stew… on Thursday

I’m taking tomorrow off/working from home for my birthday, so you get Friday’s lunchtime news chum stew today. Hopefully, it is just as tasty. This is a collection of news items where I couldn’t quite build up a good-enough linking theme that covered a significant subset for a post…


Three of Two

Some selected news chum linkage, organized in three groups of two links each, covering animal science, pet peeves, and “are they still needed?”:

  • Animal Science. Under this heading, we have two stories, both concerning household pets and water. The first asked the question: How does a cat drink water? The question isn’t as easy as you think, because cats and dogs can’t create suction with their mouths, and can’t pour water in. It turns out that whereas dogs are crude, cats are clever. The second link asked the question: How do dogs spin dry? The answer is: very fast and very efficient. In fact, they are so efficient that the approach may show up in your washing machines.
  • Pet Peeves. Two stories related to pet peeves. The first is one that always seems to rile people: grammatical pet peeves. The second I found more interesting: The Pet Peeves of Waitrets. This had some things I didn’t know, such as: “When your server has brought the check to the table and the guests decide to split the tab there is always one or two people who insist on paying cash and the rest will use their cards. This is not a problem by any means. What IS a problem is that guests don’t seem to understand one major, basic thing. The cash that is presented to the server is applied TOWARDS THE BILL. Then the cards split the remainder. At this point, those who have paid with cards will only tip on what they have had charged to their cards. This results in the server receiving a 10% or less tip which actually winds up costing the server money.”
  • Are They Still Needed? Two stories in this category. First, according to Catholic Bishops, more exorcists are needed. Who woulda thunk that demonic possession was on the increase, except perhaps in the newly elected Congress? What may not be needed are the printed White Pages—Verizon is filing a request to drop them. My favorite quote in the article: “Anybody who doesn’t have access to some kind of online way to look things up now is probably too old to be able to read the print in the white pages anyway”

AT&T U-Verse Questions

We’re seriously considering moving to AT&T Uverse (bundled Internet+ Phone); we’re sticking with DirecTV for TV. I’d like some opinions on U-Verse? I’d also like to know if the 12Mbs is a reasonable package (we’ve been on DSL)?

If we go with the 12Mbs package, the cost would be $80/month ($69.95 for the first year), plus a one-time modem fee of $100 and installation of $149. If we go with the 18Mbs package, it is $93/month, plus $149 installation fee (no modem fee, it appears).

Is anyone using U-Verse? What is the reliability of their internet service? What is the quality of their phone service? How good were their installation techs?

I’d welcome any opinions (link to opinions on los_angeles).


Internet Service Update – Questions on AT&T U-Verse

Well, our Internet is back. After an hour on the phone with Earthlink, it appears the problem was the ZyXEL modem. Luckily, I had our old Broadmax modem, and connecting it up solved the problem (after all the futzing with system settings for naught).

We’re seriously thinking about ordering U-verse for voice and Internet. I have a number of questions; I’d welcome an opinion from those that have Uverse. You can see a layout of our house here.

  • Looking at the layout, all the computers, which are hardwired Ethernet, are in Bedroom 3. The current telephone service comes in, however, on the other side of the house in the garage. Should they be able to work this out, since I figure their remote gateway will need to be in Bedroom 3.
  • What would be the right package? I’m thinking the 12Mbs download package, but I’m willing to hear arguments for other speeds.
  • Are there any other concerns about this service I should have? Does anyone else have U-verse and can speak to its reliability?

One Ringy-Dingy

Mark Lacter over at LA Observed had an interesting link to a Wired Article about the death of the phone call. Stealing his pull quote (because I’m too lazy):

This generation doesn’t make phone calls, because everyone is in constant, lightweight contact in so many other ways: texting, chatting, and social-network messaging. And we don’t just have more options than we used to. We have better ones: These new forms of communication have exposed the fact that the voice call is badly designed. It deserves to die. Consider: If I suddenly decide I want to dial you up, I have no way of knowing whether you’re busy, and you have no idea why I’m calling. We have to open Schrödinger’s box every time, having a conversation to figure out whether it’s OK to have a conversation. Plus, voice calls are emotionally high-bandwidth, which is why it’s so weirdly exhausting to be interrupted by one.

I know that I hate to make phone calls these days, and I tend not to like to receive them (they usually interrupt), although scheduled teleconferences are just fine. What’s your attitude? Is the phone call dying?


Phones and Politics

The Smothers Brothers used to have a routine where they discussed the relationship between clothes and politics. The everyday people without big salaries couldn’t afford to purchase a lot of clothes, and thus might be called the “less-on”s. I’ll leave it to you to come up with the name for the people with more money running the country…. (hmm, is this an example of what I talked about in my previous post?)

I mention this because of an interesting survey from Capitol Weekly: “A new study by Tulchin Research, a polling and strategic consulting firm, has recently shown that the majority of Californians carrying iPhones support Jerry Brown in the race for governor while those pecking away on Blackberries are more likely to support Meg Whitman.”

Hmmm, I’m using an LG non-smart phone. What does that say about me?