Luddites and the Challenge of Early Adopters

Headline – Half of Americans barely use new technology!

According to a May 11, 2007, article in The Economist, Luddites in Cyberspace:

They are the first on the block with the latest gizmo. They think nothing of paying $750 for a Nokia N95—that ultimate of go-anywhere, cell-cum-everything accoutrements. They upload digital content to social networks like YouTube, MySpace and Flickr. They write blogs at home, use wikis at work and gorge on one-segment telly on their mobiles when not talking or texting. They are the Early Adopters—the 8% of consumers who cheerfully pay through the nose for the bragging rights of having the latest and greatest of gadgets.


Their opposites are just as easy to spot. The Laggards and Luddites are slow or reluctant to embrace new technology because they can’t afford it, aren’t interested in it, or actually fear and loathe it. As a group, they are apparently much bigger than previously imagined. In a comprehensive study of how consumers use technology, the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported earlier this week that a surprising 49% of adult Americans fall into this category.

Talk about a digital divide!  While much of the new technology – the two-way collaborative technology that is transforming industry and, to a more gradual degree, education – that hundreds of educators and ed tech leaders have been blogging and podcasting about for years appears to be on its way to becoming truly ubiquitous, perhaps that is more wistful and selective thinking on the part of tech heads across the globe.   I would wager that very few readers of this blog would argue that Web 2.0 has not transformed education.

The recent introduction of a range of digital tools and services that let people express themselves online and participate in the “commons of cyberspace” is being heralded as the next phase of the information society. The digirati have labelled this new form of online interactivity as Web 2.0—to distinguish it from the one-way browsing, searching and shopping metaphor of the original internet. Yet, despite the implications for society in general and family life in particular, little is known about who uses Web 2.0’s new social networks and how.

I still maintain that while Web 2.0 and portable technologies are certainly not ubiquitous at this point I do believe that they are by their very nature transformative.  Our students by and large fall into that 8% category of Early Adopters.  The expectation of their digital lives is elaborate and finely tuned.  They expect more out of a Internet session than their parents or teachers.  They also give much more of themselves to those sessions as contributers of original media content.  They are truly creators of content and "perform" for an online audience of millions.  They are the consumers who lament over the disconnect between their "real" lives and their educational experiences.  They are the digital natives who drive the research of organizations like the International Center for Leadership in Education.

To learn more about that data gathered in the Pew Internet & American Life Project report, A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users, check out the report.  If nothing else, it will at least help to explain why ed tech leaders seem to be fighting an uphill battle.


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