The New Digital Divide
A few years ago, pundits were quite worried about the Digital divide.The short definition is that the haves would have reliable, fast access to the Net, which would give them employment and learning opportunities that others wouldn't be able to get. This would further divide those with a head start from everyone else. Wiring the schools in the US was one response to the threat of this divide.
I think a new divide has opened up, one that is based far more on choice than on circumstance. Several million people (and the number is growing, daily) have chosen to become the haves of the Internet, and at the same time that their number is growing, so are their skills.
|The Digerati||The Left Behind|
|Uses Firefox||Uses Internet Explorer|
| Knows who Doc Searls
|Already has a doctor, thanks
|Uses RSS Reader||RSS?|
|Has a blog||Reads blogs (sometimes)|
| Reads BoingBoing
|Watches the Tonight Show|
|Bored with Flickr||Flickr?|
|Gets news from Google||Gets news from Peter Jennings|
Does it surprise you that more than half of the hundreds of thousands of Boing Boing readers use Firefox? That's about five times the number you'd expect. It turns out that a lot of these tech-friendly behaviors come in bunches. Someone who has a few of these behaviors is likely to have most of them. (and no, this is by no means a complete list. I'm sure the blog community will find twenty others and post them in a day or two!)
So what? Why should you care if a bunch of nerds are learning a lot of cool new stuff?
Well, five years ago, geeks pretty much kept to themselves. They'd be sitting in IRC chat, or arguing about Unix vs. Linux, but it didn't spread very fast and it didn't influence the rest of the world outside the tech community.
Today, though, the Net is far more robust and far more ubiquitous than it used to be. And it's bloggers who are setting the agenda on everything from politics to culture. It's bloggers that journalists and politicians look to as the first and the loudest.
As a result, your most-connected, most influential customers are part of the digerati. They can make or break your product, your service or even your religion's new policies. Because the Net is now a broadcast (and a narrowcast) medium, the digerati can spread ideas.
The second thing to keep in mind is that the digerati are using the learning tools built into the Net to get smarter, faster. A new Net tool can propogate to millions in just a week or two. Unlike the old digital divide, this means that the divide between the digerati and the rest of the world is accelerating.
So, it's choice time. Several of my colleagues (tompeters! being a notable example) are jumping in with both feet. Others take a look at the headstart and decide that it's just too much work.
Try to imagine doing your work today without email. It's inconceivable. I think the tools of the digerati are going to be just as essential in just a moment or two. You can wait until Microsoft issues them all as a dumbed down package, but if you do, you'll not only miss the texture and understanding that comes from learning as you go, but you'll always be trying to catch up.
I can't decide if I'm really an us or a them. I've got all the tools above, but it's still hard work. The good news, though, is that you won't break anything if you try these new tools and commit yourself to understanding the new digerati. Better hurry, though, because they won't wait for you.