Windward and leeward of the Digital Divide

I am reading Mark Bauerlein’s book, The Digital Divide. In reading the book, I am possibly accomplishing something fairly extraordinary for a mere Digital Immigrant: I am multitasking. I am at once fascinated, perturbed, incredulous, and writing responses to the anthology’s authors, in my head, all at the same time.

I think the book is well worth reading, even though it isn’t a necessary book, as its primary purpose is to validate its own assertions. But it is nevertheless important, because most of us computer-reliant denizens of a world in accelerated transition are probably having conversations in our own heads, if not with other people, about many of the matters the book discusses, a fair amount of the time. I’m not going to review the book, but simply provide a few highlights that might serve as previews of coming attractions, should you decide to read the book.

I should qualify at the outset that I can only write this post to be intelligible to Digital Immigrants. Digital Natives are less than keen on complex sentences, and I’m not going to adjust my style for them. They like games; I like words.

Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants

The contributors of this book posit two categories, Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. Digital Natives are teens and early 20s, born into a networked world. Digital Immigrants were adults when the Internet became a ubiquitous household utility. They (we, for I am one of them) played catch-up. The two cohorts are presumed, on the basis of multitudinous studies, to think differently because their wiring is actually different due to exposure early in life either to more interpersonal interaction than other input (the Immigrants), or to more electronic/interactive input than to interpersonal interaction the (Natives).

Digital Natives are portrayed with the following attributes: they are impatient; they think laterally, skipping from one parallel universe to another with their hyperlink minds; they multitask with facility; they dislike step-by-step instructions and sequential logic, and their favored and most successful mode of learning is games. In fact, game designers are now educating educators, students, the military, and much of the work force. Hang onto your checkered newsboy caps, Immigrants.

Digital Immigrants, in addition to age, are revealed by their accents. If you print your e-mail, for instance, that’s an accent. If you require a self-addressed stamped envelope for an e-mail reply, that’s a heavy accent. If you use any punctuation besides an exclamation point in your correspondence, everybody knows how old you are. You might as well be wearing boots and a beard, or an apron and a bonnet. But take heart, Immigrants. We had the benefits of a classical, comprehensive, sequential education. We caught up. We’re old, we’re slow, and we’re smarter than they are.

Time Passes in a Whole New Way

We used to think of eras in terms of millennia, centuries, or decades; but now, the rapid transformation of technology — and of our very brain wiring — can be measured in eras of just a few years, if not a few months. For instance, I have willingly stepped into the era of having close friends who are important to me, whom I have never met in person. This was neither possible nor conceivable to me even 10 years ago. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to have these friends in my life.

Reading Has Changed

Reading specialists claim that reading is not an inherently natural act for humans, but an extremely complex learned behavior. Digital Immigrants learned to read the old way: alphabet, words, phrases, sentences, all integrating with concepts from already acquired language and experience. We old schoolers still tend to read for enjoyment, for learning, for reflection on ideas and abstract concepts, for information, etc. Many of us are comfortable reading online, and many are not. Many of us prefer books. The computer offers a lot of distraction and discomfort. Digital Natives, on the other hand, do everything on the computer. They take distraction in stride. They prefer graphics to words whenever possible. Blinking things don’t bother them. They skim and hyperlink back and forth for information more than they actually read, and they don’t pause to reflect or think very deeply about what they read. It’s more grab and go.

Is the Digital Divide a Spiritual Divide?

Digital Natives read very few books. Even Digital Immigrants are relying more and more on the Internet as a reading mainstay. Fewer people are reading books, period. (Electronic reading devices will, I think, gradually compensate for this, and book reading will see a resurgence. They make reading enjoyable, and they are a tremendous ergonomic boon.) Digital Natives’ thought processes are distinct from those of Immigrants, and so are their reading processes. Natives want ready answers, they do not want to reflect on content. They are solution-oriented, and they want to resolve problems and conflicts quickly. They don’t want a narrative of the problem, they want to know what specific solution would make everyone happy. They want everyone happy. They cannot abide negativity.

No wonder — negativity would be an abyss because they have no way to process it philosophically or theologically. And the worst is that the outcome of their learning style could conceivably become the destruction of the core of their lives. God does not reveal Himself in games. The authors of the articles in The Digital Divide proffer no solution to this; indeed, they express no concern for this dimension of life at all.

I suspect with more than a little horror that a soul gap is the inevitable consort of the so-dubbed “brain gap.” It’s a good time to be a Calvinist.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. — Hosea 4:6

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