For years, it’s been an accepted idea, that some people are simply more comfortable with the mysterious inner workings of the Internet, and some are not. It’s often regarded as a generational thing, those who have grown up with an online culture already intact, and easy access to it at everything from desktops to phones. This was known as the Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives theory – the idea that there was an inherent gap between people who had grown up online, and those who have had to use it later in life. This idea has been around for a while, since 2001, but it starts to seem too generalised after a while, after all, there are an increasing number of older people with income to spend on technology who are spending time online, while clearly not all teenagers are facebook obsessives.
In 2008, David S. White and Alison Le Cornu proposed a new theory on why the divide exists in their paper ‘ Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ ‘, it is a matter of perspective.
To some people, the Internet is regarded as a tool, a way of connecting to others, finding out information etc. Yet an increasing number of people regard it as almost a place, a virtual space that they inhabit, and this has become far more prevalent in the age of the of ‘always on’ lifestyle, where to quote Danah Boyd, ‘It’s about living in a world where being networked to people and information wherever and whenever you need it is just assumed.’*
Some have suggested that its reaching the point where there is little distinction between online and not – Internet culture and gaming blogger Jerry Holkins recently commented (referring to conversation’s with his co-worker’s children, ‘These are people for whom “online” is a meaningless term.‘
I have had discussions with various people over the last few months who have mostly given me a similar opinion of the always on lifestyle, this is a BAD THING. This is because they feel that those who spend too much time online and not participating enough in the ‘real world’. Note, both real world and IRL are phrases I have been trying to avoid ever since a meeting with MIT lecturer Michael Joroff (designer of MediaCityUK and all-round cool person,) who pointed out to me what a misleading term this is, since this both implies that that one is less real than the other. He’s completely right. The things we do in one world affect the other – there have have been several stories in the news recently about people being arrested for comments on twitter, and articles on how this could change the way we communicate online.
So, is this melding of real and virtual damaging or enhancing society? With such differing opinions, maybe it’s doing neither. Society hasn’t changed for the better or for the worse, we just do things differently now.
* Boyd, D. “Participating in the Always-On Lifestyle” in Mandiberg, M. (ed.) The Social Media Reader (New York University Press, 2012)