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The digital divide is today discussed as the divide between those who have access to The Net and those who do not (the “developed” world vs. the “developing” world). Projects like the Negroponti $100 laptop (also see “Poor People Need The $100 Laptop Because..) is applauded because it seeks to include yet more ‘technologically challenged’ (copyright..?) people into our information revolution. This is no doubt a pressing and interesting issue, and projects like this should obviously be recognized as a good initiative because of their motivation and good intentions. However, looking toward the future, when being online is no longer a option in the terms we think of it today, and unplugging or shielding oneself from visibility becomes a task in itself, being offline will be seen as a benefit, and a freedom.
I was very relieved to hear today in a Youtube clip from the Politics Online 2008, from Adam Greenfield who was on the panel, that this is exactly what a digital divide discussion will be about in our near future; to be able to exclude oneself from the ever present visibility on the network and to have the freedom to shut down, unplug and just be..
Adam Greenfield has admitted to be not a hundred percent optimistic about our future, and is concerned with how we design our ubiquitous future, giving much weight during his seminars on privacy issues, and the invasiveness of a pervasive technology environment. Also, listening to people like him as well as top researchers and technocrats worry about the same issues, leaves me only more secure in my hypothesis that our ubicomp future will come as a strange, scary and alienating experience particularly for elderly citizens (I have stopped thinking about them as “users” in this particular context, as they surely will become subject rather than active users of many types of coming technology).
This means for me, now walking several paralell concept paths, that the one regarding the freedom of being on the offline side of the divide is more interesting and urgent, while the one concerning bridging it, or rather ignoring it, could also render an elderly user somewhat more comfortable with being on the net, but it could also exclude itself precisely because it ignores this divide. Whether or not you will have people of the same age group and demographic on both sides of the divide is obvious, but as I see it, the more relevant issue for all of us, is the privacy issue. So now, working on different concepts very late in the project period, should I finalize the one adressing this very important and interesting issue, should I try to work around it, or should I choose to look on the bright side of it, and utilize the net for the possible rewards it could give elderly people? Certanly the latter would include them in a ubicomp society in a different way, perhaps balancing out the feeling of being unwillingly visible 24/7, or maybe making it worth while somehow, but would you be able to shake that feeling..?
Visuals of the concepts coming very soon.
I have to admit; the act of publishing my own reflections on this blog is a lot stranger and more challenging than I first thought. When trying to design a concept for the future elderly, this is helpful. They will live with their mindset and values of today in a ubiquitous computing world, given the option of being “always on” through a vast variety of products and services, all wirelessly connected. And if even for me this is somewhat of a strange notion, what will it be like for people older than me? It could become a nightmare scenario, or they could be the first generation to actually set a standard for this type of everyday, “Everyware” , life, with a traditional set of values I think are to be well respected. I have been talking to people of my chosen user group, and gotten some indication as to what they think their future as retired might be, and while most are optimistic and open as to what kind of activities and lifestyle they will enjoy, no one so far has put the finger on the technological development taking place, and how they think this will influence their lives. This tells me that they could be in for a great deal of surprises, given that today, we might hear of some new development and within a few days it might be here. When visionaries like Adam Greenfield talks about ubiquitous computing, he puts it into a timeframe of a few years. And this I thought of when starting this project; the thing I`m designing could be realistic way before I think it is.
Today my grandmother got her first email account, joining in her own small way an online life I take for granted by now, and would not know what to do without. For her it was a nice experience getting her first email from me with a link to a Youtube video about her hometown; a simple slideshow of its history, some very nice “danceband” music on top, and of course flagging the patriotism of the local football team. It will be exciting to see how she will continue to use this new window to the world, and although she has already indicated many difficulties with the pc and browser interface, she is very openminded and welcomes its many possibilities.
For a user like my grandmother, the many ethical aspects of being online aren`t as imposing as much as we will think for a ubiquitous computing (UC) scenario. She is in complete control of when she`s online, and what she will use of online services. In the future in which I imagine my design concept, we will be surrounded by interconnected products and services, and the boundary of being ON/OFF line will be a lot more evasive. Designing a concept for the future use of UC, the most important thing for me would be exactly this; we have to be able to unplug, and to be in control of, or at least aware of how we interact with this type of service.