Another Digital Divide? What’s Your Experience?

June 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Monday, I was working with two different clients, both of whom talked about the great potential technology holds for making their work easier, helping with engaging people and moving the work forward. At the same time, there were deep concerns expressed about what may be another digital divide – that being the divide (within those who have access to technology) between those who naturally gravitate toward the use of technology (the geeks among us) and those who either find it incredibly difficult (or even incomprehensible) and/or those who don’t like technology and find it a totally inadequate substitute for face-to-face conversations. This is on top of the other digital divide – the divide between those who have access to technology and the internet and those who don’t. At the same time, due to climate change and the economic collapse, many groups we work with are cutting back (or even eliminating) travel to meetings and re-thinking how they’re working together.

There’s a group of us within IISC who have been working on how and when to incorporate social media, web 2.0 tools and other technology into social change work. We are learning from some great and knowledgeable advisors (among others, Jessica Lipnack and Jeff Stamps) about ways to hold virtual meetings and are exploring some really helpful tools that can be used for collaboration. And we’re in the midst of asking many of these same questions. When are face-to-face meetings most important and when are virtual meetings the best choice? What are some things that can be done to improve the experience in virtual meetings – both technology tools and improving facilitation practices to support working virtually? What are some ways to make it easier for people to adopt and use technology? Which tools should we use? How much time does it take to set up, manage and train everyone?

These are questions we are hearing almost everywhere in our sector. Nonprofits, foundations and community groups strongly believe technology will help and aren’t sure how to use technology or where to turn for help figuring it out. We’ll share what we’re learning as we go. And we’d love to hear what you’re struggling with, what successes you’ve had and what your hopes are.

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  • Gibran says:

    Ok, so I have already been accused of not being sensitive enough to this very real issue, but here is what I think – I am still processing Kevin Kelly’s mind blowing TED talk on the next 5000 days of the web and what came to mind here is his comparing this technology to our ability to write, an invented technology that now we can’t do without. We certainly have a literacy problem, and there are many people who find it very hard to read and write, but few people deny how important literacy is as a developmental tool. We are being pressed to evolve at an unforeseen pace, and the fact is that many people are at risk of being left behind – this is a period of serious disruption, even chaos – so what are the values that can carry us through this and how do we become exemplars at living them out?

  • Linda says:

    Yes Gibran! Great points. We’re beng pressed incredibly and your analogy to writing seems an apt one. And there have been many other invented technologies that came and went rapidly (the 8-track tape, etc.) So there’s a need to adapt as well as a need to disrupt and move strategically. My own personal bent is also that if there are ways to bring others along, we should be doing it. Sometimes that means, though, moving ahead and then reaching a hand back to help others come along (rather than waiting for everyone to step together).

  • Gibran says:

    I certainly agree with the premise of “moving ahead and then reaching a hand back to help others come along (rather than waiting for everyone to step together).” and I think it has a relationship to the power of links in networks. I also think it is imperative that we ground ourselves in values that lead to the distribution of power.

    I would say that Twitter could be like the 8-Track tape, but the Web is like the alphabet, a technology that changes human history and evolution.

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