The hope for a level playing field on the Internet, that "everyone" would take advantage of the Internet to improve their knowledge, skills and literacy, isn't what's happening. Fifteen years ago the struggle was to get people in front of an Internet connected machine. That achieved, very little happened. In the last 6 years the struggle was to get "broadband into every home:, and we've pretty much done that in New Zealand. Net result, very little, people still don't use their connections.
This is not an New Zealand problem. Prof. Catherine Middleton in Canada discovered the same thing. Don Cameron, working in rural Australia has similar findings.
So what's wrong here? Partly it's just transition time, it takes a long time for people to change their habits of thought and action. So, in one sense there's nothing wrong except the expectation that the technology itself would make a difference. It won't. What people choose to DO, has to change.
There are personal reasons why people should want to be more active online. We all need to be seen as "modern people", up with the play, capable and interested, skilled and involved in the community. People can see if you are active online or not. They will make decisions about you, your skill levels and your behaviour because of what they see.
If I'm preparing for a business meeting with someone don't really know, I do a search for the personal name and explore the links I'm offered. Anyone who is invisible is not a modern business executive. When people are visible, you can see fairly quickly what their business concerns are. Depending on who we are talking about you may also be able to see political and community activity for the same person.
Nobody is expecting everyone to develop amazing technical skills. What people need to learn is simple, easy to do, and self reinforcing. But it does require new understanding. There is an easy way to begin this sort of activity. Join some online social networks. Other people will help you learn the skills you need to know more about.
- Most people would be better off if:
- The quality of their information sources was improved.
- There was more contact with friends or family overseas.
- They had more social contacts.
- They became active group members.
- They talked more to people they don't know well.
- They joined discussions on interesting topics.
- They talked more to people who live elsewhere.
The Internet makes all of the above easy and normal.
Online information is no more reliable nor any less reliable than information from other sources. In fact one of the great benefits of online information is to expose the deliberate falsification of "official and government" sources of information, that I at least used to imagine, would always be reliable. The worse cases of deliberate information contamination happens when politicians or business interests have a need to win public support for an unpopular cause. The Presidency of G.W. Bush, was full of "political truth" that was often not even close to the facts of the case. If we all agree that "Father Christmas" will visit on Christmas Eve, does that make it "true"?
There is some criticism that online life detracts from real life. Several studies have shown that people with a lot of online connections also have many more offline connections than usual. People who are active online meet more people, learn more and are also more active offline. So this activity does take time, where does that come from? Generally the answer is less television. The average person watches TV for 3-4 hours every day. In my case I'd struggle to watch for an hour most days.