Getting schooled at SXSW

The schedule at SXSW Interactive can be quite intimidating to say the least. Every hour session block is teeming with great lessons–and at times I have no less than five different talks I want to get to. Since I have yet to create the equivalent to Hermione Granger’s time turner, I have to settle for just attending one session at a time. (Yes, I managed to squeeze a Harry Potter reference in, but to my credit there was a session about Harry Potter online fan culture…).

First up was Popping Your Bubble: Stories from the Digital Divide. The panel was well moderated by Eric Martin, of Native American Public Communications, who gleaned insights from Allison Aldrige-Saur, Director of eMarketing for the Chickasaw Nation Division of Commerce, Dean Davis, Community Tech Coordinator at the College of Nominee Nation, and Dee Davis (no relation), President of the Center for Rural Strategies.

Now I’m no stranger to the digital divide, not only have I had excellent instruction on the matter (thanks to Kathy Gill’s Digital Democracy course), but I have first hand experience on access issues related to both money (or lack of) and age (working with non-Digital-natives). Regardless, right from the get-go, this panel was schooling me left and right on my presumed knowledge of the divide. It’s easy for those of us who tend to be wired, looking at one screen or another nearly all day, to forget that there are still a massive amount of people that don’t have access to broadband (yes, there are people in this world using dial-up) or even the internet at all. Heck, there are people out there that have never used a computer.

Heading into 4 more high-tech, digital media-crazed days at SXSW Interactive, I’m keeping the following key points in mind:

  • Beyond money as a roadblock to internet access, speed of access also contributes to the divide: speed means participation.
  • We need to rethink our assumptions about design conventions. User-Interface design needs to keep the audience in mind and remove all barriers to entry. For example, many of us would assume it’s obvious that you can reach the homepage by clicking the website logo. But that convention is not readily obvious to new internet users, and thus is just that: an assumption.
  • The promise of connectivity results in a different type of citizenry, and the U.S. is falling behind as we fail to address wide-spread internet access issues.
  • The internet is seen as a readily available (open) source of information, including anyone and anything, yet high-speed access to it is exclusive.
  • Tractors are more useful than iPads. (A rural shop that annual gave away tractors acquired 10 iPads and could only give away 7. The community struggled to see how an iPad was relevant.)
  • New technology is not just for the young. Old dogs can learn new tricks. So let’s teach!

If anything, this panel served as a reminder to remain aware of issues that persist in our world, and especially in the U.S., pertaining to (high-speed) internet access.

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