Two Digital Divides

Two Heade Shark

The Two Headed Shark

We have yet to begin to consolidate the opportunities that have opened up for in the last decade of the internet, in terms of the most basic stuff.

Jon Udell ended his 2007 “The Disruptive Nature of Technology” presentation discussing what he called the “two digital divides” of technology. You can listen to his two minute riff about this in the clip above. Udell suggests the first digital divide, which many of us are familiar with, is linked to access to the technology, or not. The second digital divide revolves around the mystification of tech by what he terms “the geek tribe” (Audrey Watters gets at this beautifully in her critiques of the Silicon Valley mindset). His bit about becoming a reformed member of this geek tribe by actually trying to explaining innovations in technology in plain, comprehensible language is fundamentally a communication issue.

Udell’s bit about the second digital divide resonated deeply with me becasue it gets at what has been most fun, and challenging, about the edtech space: explaining what I do to someone 🙂 Attempting to understand and then explain the potential of various web technologies to people who don’t live in that space is not easy. The creative challenge of searching for the right analogy or metaphor to make what seems foreign and technical immediately familiar and practical is premised on many failures. That’s why blogging, at least for me, has been such an integral part of the job these last nine years. It’s a simple space that I can seed all sorts of ideas on the fly in a low stakes manner to try and explain ideas I am struggling with. And it also helps that I’ve had to wrap my head conceptually around a lot of this tech myself over the last decade.

I think that’s why I’ve been enamored of folks like Mike Caulfield who continually takes great, entertaining pains to try and explain a wide variety of complex, highly technical issues as free of jargon and assumptions as possible on his blog. I’m not suggesting Caulfield is easy-to-read or simplifying the tech, he’s definitely not. Frankly, I often come away scratching my head and wondering what the hell terms like middleware mean. He comes to edtech as a translator. The same can also be said of Audrey Watters—that’s why the two of them have become indispensible to my understanding of the broader field of tech over the last several years (although Audrey is more given to Brian Lamb-like doom mongering than Mike 😉 ). It’s what immediately struck me about Kin Lane when I met him last year, he has an unmatched passion when it comes to explaining how APIs work and why understaning them is crucial to our ability to remain good citizens of the web. For all three there’s a deep impulse to educate and engage around the tech as it relates to our lives rather than provide a mystical solution to enterprise problems.

So, while the first variety of digital divide centered around access is a deeper political issue that would entail re-imagining the internet as a utility (which I am all in favor of), I  believe the second might be considered part of the domain of education. How can we help fight the mystification of tech with history, context, and application. Rather than chasing the next innovation—as attractive as that can be—the time has come to start framing curriculum for thinking like the web, to quote another Udell classic. But not in a fashion that consigns this endeavor to an undergraduate Computer Science elective, but across all disciplines. How can we begin to frame more broadly how the technical innovations made possible by the internet over the last fifty years are informing the present and shaping the future of just about every element our culture? Engaging that question deeply seems to me one way at the educational imperative of closing that second digital divide.

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8 Responses to Two Digital Divides

  1. Lisa M Lane says:

    So basically we need a two-headed shark to explain the water we’re all swimming in?

  2. No Lisa, you have to swim twice as fast 😉

    Thanks for the Udellian brilliance, something worth a post it at the top of the blog editing screen. Sandy Brown Jensen Brown (she’s my Peter Rowan Rowan Peter) leaves comments on my site about not understanding the mumbo jumbo but appreciating it. Even if something is introduced to give s sense of its context or importance.

    Like PT Barnum never said, you cannot write for all of the people all of the time.

    But you can try.

  3. pat says:

    The internet as utility makes perfect sense as it works with net neutrality and maps the divide to water supply.

    Question then is the tap the API or is the plumbing the API? So if edtech DIY and the siliconsigneri is a DIY-then-DTO (do to others) and for DTO to work / make money it has to seem like witchcraft or magic else why pay. See Thrun and his driverless cars / solving online learning

  4. Chris L says:

    I’ve often characterizes these two divides—for more than a decade now—as access being narrow but deep, a fissure that if one falls into it is isolating and difficult, but for which bridging is a known, solved, technical problem (and most bridges look the same)… while the 2nd kind of divide, whatever one wants to call them, is an immense span that demands not a bridge, but learning mostly new ways to traverse, and often settle into, many diverse territories, most of which don’t have another side to get to.

  5. Mariana Funes says:

    I experience the geek tribe divide daily. In my enthusiasm for technology I forget or refuse to believe that other educators are unable to see the value. I am often unable to explain it in a way that they can understand. A colleague said to me this week, that talking of augmenting rather than replacing educational practice with technology might help but that is not how educational technology is framed often. The same colleague said that I often talk about it with a kind of fundamentalist mind set, as if those not in the ‘cult’ are somehow ‘less than’. How would I describe what I am doing, he said, in a way that meets their needs rather than my need to enthuse about the latest tech toy?

    I had asked him for feedback because I want our institution to embrace technology more than they do. The way he was talking about their experience of educational technology from the ‘outside’ (and he is really quite technical already) was like your photo, Jim, that has the slogan ‘sometimes things have to experienced to be believed’. If people do not have the motivation to experience it, they just don’t believe it or demonise it.

    The divides are very really and the enemy is ‘us’.

  6. Hi – longtime reader, new commenter joining the discussion.

    Your message in this post is oddly familiar to a realization that I’m slowly coming around to as well. It’s not about “talking more about what we know with those who already know it,” but how we can best put our skills and knowledge to use when communicating with others who are in a different place than us. That different place takes various forms, depending upon with whom you are interacting. For example, I recently set up a simple website using WP for family members. Or was it simple? 🙂 Depends on perspective.

    Another question, for me, related to this is…for those of us in the edtech field, what is our responsibility to evangelize technology and all its many affordances, etc to others? Perhaps in a way that is approachable and non-fetishizing? Or, beyond the confines of our faculty members, clients, etc does that responsibility not carry over into the real world that is our daily lives? These were some of the thoughts that came up listening to Udell’s remarks towards the end of the audio clip.

  7. Stuart Ryan says:

    I would have to agree with the comments laid out in this article. As a technologist I can see the benefits of the tool in education but seem to be talking klingon to those that don’t understand. I wonder if there is a correlation between those people who continuously develop themselves through channels such as Youtube, online forums, and blogging etc to those that see the only way to develop is to go to a face-to-face course of which tend to be 2 days long and at the end you get a nice certificate [for what? sitting on my bum for two days listening to you?] we have it all wrong when it comes to education, it’s not a timed event like our 4 year degree programs are, it’s a competency check and you will obtain these skills, if I get that in two minutes rather then 2 days, 2 months or 2 years then so beit.

    It’s a strange and frustrating time personally, I talk of using eLearning (self-paced online modules) to augment the training courses we offer and I’m finding that the biggest critics to it are the very people who tell you “this is the future”.

    So which is it then? As a training profession who has been in the field of coaching since the age of 13, i’ve always moved forward with an open mind and tried things differently to see what the results will be. It’s a shame that Change Management is such a difficult and well known subject throughout companies and businesses that want to get more flexible and adaptive. The problem is mind set and part of the job as being an educator is to always have an open mind. It’s a bit like the innovation of Slate to paper, time is on our side and to quote “technology won’t replace teachers, teachers who use technology will”.

    • Reverend says:

      I think you are right, and there is a lot of rhetoric swirling around the space of online teaching and learning in so many fields. I think part of the real sense of learning is the ability to narrate that process, and by extnesion share it. That’s what has become available to us with so many of these tools, and I wonder if the notion of using this ability to rethink ourselves as a node within a much broader educational network is valuable. That said, i think the local really frames much of this, and I hope we find a balance between these two. These are frustrating times, indeed, and I think we might take a bit of solace in the fact there are a lot of people who want to share and learn about things beyond the ceritificate or credential, the key for me is why and how can educational institutions start exploring what drives that, namely curiosity and fun.

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