I am going take a risk and share an opinion that could be unpopular with some of my readers. One of my pet peeves is how some tech-savvy people look down their nose at those who are not tech-savvy. The digital divide can be the kiss of death for a small business. The digital divide can create walls between departments, employees and, worst of all, between the company and it’s customers. Automated voice answering systems (which I call voice mail hell), are a prime example of how technology can create a wall between a company and it’s customers.
Don’t get me wrong, small business owners need to be tech-savvy. If they aren’t savvy enough to be using the appropriate internet marketing tools and techniques including Web 2.0, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Blogging, Social Media and text message marketing, they could be missing huge opportunities to grow their business. If they haven’t checked out the new Smartphones like iPhone, EVO or Droid and haven’t seen what the new iPad tablet can do, they may never know how much more efficient they could be.
However, there is a big difference between being tech-savvy and a tech-addict. Tech-addicts are always checking their computer screens, blackberries or smart phones. When they are challenged on this rude behavior, they defend themselves by claiming to have extraordinary multi-tasking skills. Meanwhile, non-tech-savvy observers wonder what’s so great about being tech-savvy if it interferes with one’s ability to function normally. This short video provides an amusing depiction.
The first time I realized how polarizing technology could be was when I was working with some programmers in a small technology firm on some new products that were designed to be delivered online. As time went on, the programmers began treating me with contempt because I didn’t have their technical knowledge or skills. Finally one day, I got tired of feeling inadequate and patronized, so I told them, “The day I understand how to do your work is the day I don’t need you!”
The digital divide can exist in any sized organization. A former colleague of mine used to check her blackberry several times during conversations without even batting an eye. She could be sitting less than two feet from someone and yet her attention was somewhere else. The word that describes her affliction is called “crackberry” . Today, Smartphones have the capacity to give “crackberries” a whole new high because they can do many things blackberries can’t.
Technology is a double edged sword. It has revolutionized how we solve problems, communicate and live. A recent survey reported that one out of five couples met online. And yet, while technology has virtually eliminated the geographical distance between people, it has also become a significant barrier to authentic communication and lasting relationships. You see, the digital divide is dividing people.
This was the subject of a recent discussion in a LinkedIn group. The leader of a local non-profit was concerned that certain members of an association were tech-savvy while others were not. The members who were not tech-savvy were being urged to “get with the program” by the tech-savvy members.
Personally, I am beginning to wonder if there is something more sinister driving the ever-widening “digital divide” between professionals who are addicted to modern technology and those who aren’t. One of the participants in the LinkedIn discussion shared the story of an individual who was texting during an interview. They seemed totally oblivious to the fact that they had “texted” themselves out of a job.
Then, there are the horror stories of people spreading lies online that have the power to destroy careers, reputations and brands. I just saw a commercial where a woman broke up with her boyfriend by sending him a text message.
You can spot a tech-addict a mile away. They’re the ones who check their Smartphones as soon as they wake up, while driving, during meetings, meals and right before going to sleep at night. If you pay attention to the time of day people send emails and texts, you will soon realize that tech-addicts are never more than a few feet away from their electronic devices. This must be so they can get a fix from email, texts and tweets anytime they need one.
I have a theory about what may be causing the current epidemic of tech-addiction. While it’s probably true that those who are not tech-savvy may be intimidated by technology, it’s also possible that tech-addicts are intimidated by the potential for intimacy that comes with focused, face-to-face, human interaction. You see, when you send a message through email, texting, Twitter, Facebook, Instant Messaging or other electronic means, it can feel as if you have some level of immunity. You are less vulnerable. After all, if you happen to offend someone, there is little or no chance for them to punch you in the nose.
Developing thousands of digital “connections”, “friends” or “fans” can give your brain a false sense of security. The reality is that if you were ever in dire need of help, most, if not all of these connections, friends and fans wouldn’t lift so much as a finger (or two) to help. There are those who might write encouraging words. But, real friends, the kind you can count on, will earn the right to be called your friend by doing more than writing a few nice words. They will do something to help you solve your problem.
There is a seductive allure to the facsimile of human interaction and it has been growing at an alarming rate for at least a decade. In 1999, Linden Lab, founded by Philip Rosedale, created a revolutionary new form of shared experience known as Second Life®. Second Life is a 3D virtual world where Residents (people like you) can create imaginary life experiences and relationships for entertainment. Millions of people spend hours living imaginary lives that are far more exciting and successful than their actual lives. Obviously having the ability to create a “better” life than the one you have has proven to be good business. Linden Labs now has over 330 employees and has expanded across the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
Research has shown that our brains don’t differentiate between what it feels like to experience pleasure from a real experience we are having from one we are observing. This is why we derive so much pleasure from watching certain movies, reading certain books, playing video games or taking part in activities like Second Life. And, there is nothing inherently wrong with entertainment like this. The problem is when we give more of our time and attention to the facsimile of relationships and experiences than we give to the real thing.
Tech-savvy small business owners know that the next big revolution in technology has already begun. It’s the mobile internet. According to Wikipedia, there are 234 million mobile phone subscribers in the U.S. In a 2010 study by ComScore, it was revealed that 45.5 million people in the United States now own a Smartphone, which is among the fastest growing segment of the mobile phone market.
However, tech-savvy small business owners must acknowledge and deal with the reality of the digital divide. Not everyone is comfortable with technological advances. So, no matter how tempting it may be to automate functions in order to save money, it is imperative to retain as much human interaction with customers as possible.
My biggest concern with the arrival of the mobile internet is that we may be on the verge of a worldwide epidemic of tech-addicts. But, before you label me as a technology heretic, let me state emphatically that technological advances are good. However, too much of a good thing can be bad.
When my children were small, if they had a choice between candy and vegetables, they preferred the candy. We need to be careful we don’t create a world full of tech-addicts who prefer the instant gratification of virtual relationships and conversations rather than the real thing.
Posted by: Susan Fronk