‘The Digital Divide’- Are those who are not part of the digital revolution and National Broadband Network rollout in Australia, the observers of the realization of Turing’s 1936 prophecy? Are we watching people remaking themselves in the image of their technology? Or will we find ourselves outsiders in the natural progression of society?
`How would you like to live in Looking-glass House, Kitty? I wonder if they'd give you milk in there?’ (Lewis 1871, p.11) Did Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants, like Alice, ask this before embracing a technology that changed the way they thought about themselves and the world in which they lived? A personal case study of eight former university/school friends, all extroverted and high achievers, now entering their late twenties got together for a hen’s night. Five of the girls had a great time actively having fun like former times, while three sat down and uploaded photos on their mobiles and posted on Facebook. On checking their page, each had said what a crazy fun time they were having at the party. They made it look as if they were part of it all, at the centre of it, yet they were not. This seemingly subtle difference in self-perception forms the basis of the argument that computer mediated social networking (CMSN), virtual social worlds (VSW’s) and virtual gaming worlds (VGW’s) are the natural progression of a society dependent on television. That technology formed the basis of the trend towards redefining humanity and our relationship to nature through a displaced sense of self to the image they have created.
Are we, who are on the wrong side of the digital track (Notley & Frith 2008), watching the realization of Turing’s 1936 prediction for the year 2000 (Bolter 1984), where people would recreate themselves in the image of their technology? The “Digital Divide” debate and the coinage of the terms “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants” was originated by Prensky (2001) and challenged by Selwyn (2009) who contested the generational specificity of Prensky and its one-size-fits-all demographic representation. His critique looked past the sensationalistic political and populist notion of a ‘new breed’ and highlighted the very real variance within the ‘Digital generation’, to include severe limitations in computer networking technological skills, affordability, social constraints, availability and accessibility to services other than dial up (ABS 2010). Those who will be permanently restricted I call Digital Primitives and those who for personal, philosophical or pedagogical reasons make a conscious decision to not expose or severely limit exposure of their children, Digital Outsiders.
This digital divide spans all generations and is particularly prevalent in rural communities (ACMA 2008, Notley & Frith 2008), where wireless and satellite have only recently become available. After the NBN roll out, 7% of Australians who will rely on wireless and the 3% on satellite technology will be permanently handicapped in access to sites that will assume high-speed connection. (NBN Co. Ltd., 2010.). This disadvantage may be an advantage, when it is seen in the light of the potentially serious impacts associated with excessive CMSN
The impacts of CMSN are minimal in rural regions due to severe limitations in accessing mobile phone networks and until recently for many, television reception. It is rare to see children in our area ‘texting’ and networking with their mobile phones. When children from the city come to the area and are suddenly separated from their CMSN, they suffer what can only be described as withdrawal symptoms (Doidge 2008;Greenfield 2000; Zur 2011). Despite a social demographic with very high rates of alcoholism, smoking, mental health problems, poverty, illiteracy, high unemployment and previous criminal records, in eight years in our small town, I have never seen graffiti. A youth involved in vandalism now has given up his former city ‘virtual network’ for the real network of the local CFS, which gave him a sense of identity and place. Graffiti is an indicator of social isolation and the need to belong, even if it is a subculture of virtual ephemeral friendships linked through a desire to make a statement through graffiti or gate crash parties (Mac Donald 2001).
Unlike high density living in cities, time moves more slowly in small communities without the added continual stimulation associated with CMSN. SVW’s, GVW’s and mobile phone mediated stimulation (MPMS) will be argued to be the counter-culture child of the passive ‘activity’ (Winn 2008, p. 68) of the television generation.
In 1948 Jack Gould, the first television critic of The New York Times wrote: “Children’s hours on television admittedly are an insidious narcotic for the parent. With the tots fanned out on the floor in front of the receiver, a strange if wonderful quiet is at hand…” (Winn 1977, p. 11) Educators soon raised concerns of observed negative impacts on play initiation, attention difficulties and today this still is the subject of research. (Doidge 2008,Small & Vorgan 2008) While my generation still could reference our reality prior to television, children and many adults today primarily reference television, which impacts on their perception of reality. People increasingly chose to watch more violent or active shows to create the illusion and sensations of activity while remaining in the safety and comfort of their homes (Doidge 2008). In Australia, this need for safety was reinforced for that generation by a pivotal event in undermining the concept of ‘neighbourhood’, the abduction of the Beaumont children. The video game, computer SVW’s, GVW’s, connection and gaming through mobile technology rapidly evolved while science was and is still coming to understand the biological and psychological impacts over the last 50 years (Small & Vorgan 2008). Studies using PET have shed light on the addictive characteristics and impacts on areas of the brain through over stimulation, in particular the release of dopamine and the over-activation of Pavlov’s “orienting response” in the midbrain. This continual response stimulation is what leads people to continue watching despite appalling content. Television, video and computer games activate this primal response at a far more rapid rate than that experienced in real life. This over-stimulation leads to a loss of capacity for focused attention, reading skills, in-depth conversations and now difficulty in listening even to the best lecturers (Doidge 2008). Once television fantasy became incorporated into the developing mind of the child, the ‘real world’ seemed to take on the aspect of fantasy and became boring by comparison. This is where children and vulnerable adults, particularly women, who look at their image and find there are not so many role models overweight and wrinkly, have, like Alice, found the screen defining the virtual world and the ‘real’ world blurred and softened, and they entered the ‘House in the Looking Glass’ to merge with their Avatar. Norman Doidge highlighted in ‘The Brain that Changes Itself’ how similar humanity’s creation, electronic visual media, is to our central nervous system (CNS), making links easy to form. The elasticity of our CNS allows it to merge so completely it makes a new and extended singularity or as Mc Luhan stated, “now man is beginning to wear his brain outside his skull and his nerves outside his skin.” (Doidge 2008, p. 311)
These vulnerable individuals have recreated themselves in the image of their technology, antithetical but paralleling Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray” where he justifies his creation by saying, “Why, my dear Basil, he is a Narcissus, and you--well, of course you have an intellectual expression and all that. But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins.” They have become “Turing’s men”. We Digital Primitives and Digital Outsiders also find a metaphor in Wilde, “ It is better not to be different from one's fellows. The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world. They can sit at their ease and gape at the play.” (Wilde, O., 2003, Ed., p. 5)
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